The Health and Social Care Bill represents a unique threat to the NHS, the institution that provides vital care to millions, is at the core of Labour’s achievements, and is the most potent and totemic expression of social democratic values in practice that we have in the UK.
The five key reasons why Labour is opposing the Bill are as follows:
1. The Bill will break up the NHS and create an unfair postcode lottery. With no national standards, there will be widespread variation in the treatments available on the NHS. In some areas, people may have to go private to get services available for free elsewhere.
2. The Bill risks rises in waiting times and a two-tier NHS. It scraps the cap on hospitals treating private patients at the same time as
watering down guarantees on NHS waiting times. This means local hospitals will be free to treat more private patients and make NHS
patients wait longer.
3. The Bill turns the NHS into a full-blown commercial market, putting competition before patient care. It allows private companies to
cherry-pick quick profits, potentially forcing local hospitals to go bust. Hospitals could even be fined for working together.
4. The Bill undermines the bond of trust between doctors and patients. It creates conflicts of interest where financial incentives could
interfere with medical decisions. GPs could even get a bonus for rationing your care.
5. This Bill is wasting money and creating bureaucracy. It is unforgivable to spend £2 billion on a reckless re-organisation when
the NHS needs every penny it can get for patient care. Nearly £1 billion is being wasted on pay-offs for managers, only for many of
them to be re-employed as consultants.
Right now, the NHS is facing the biggest financial challenge in its history. But instead of focusing all of its energy on meeting this
challenge, the NHS is being distracted by a dangerous upheaval that has no democratic legitimacy.
This sort of reform was not in the Lib Dem manifesto, or even the Tory one – Cameron campaigned on the basis that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. This, the semi-public splits in the cabinet on the issue, and the immense political damage being done to both government parties – YouGov found on Sunday that only 18% of voters support the Bill and 48% oppose it – means the Bill can be stopped in Parliament if there is sufficient external pressure. Andy Burnham thinks it is the one issue that could split the coalition.
The timing means most local Labour Parties are gearing up for local elections. We are thus presented with an opportunity to campaign in an integrated way, building defence of the NHS into our election campaigning so that we mobilise popular opposition to the Bill both in terms of putting direct pressure on Parliament and through a backlash at the ballot box.
This is a particularly resonant issue for former Lib Dems who we need to get voting Labour if we are to win the next General Election and the elections this May.
Here are some practical steps we can all take to stop the Bill – in my CLP we’ve formally committed to do most of these:
• Make protecting the NHS a key theme for your street stalls – use a simple petition stating ““I call on the Government to drop the Health and Social Care Bill”. “Tories – out of touch on the NHS” leaflets available from for £35 per 1,000. You can also use these when canvassing.
• Encourage everyone you know to write to their MP and any Peers with local connections expressing the concerns above – not only does this put pressure on Tories and Lib Dems, it helps Labour MPs demonstrate the extent of public concern. If you have a government MP, ask to meet them at their surgery to put your views across.
• Encourage your local activists to attend the national Lobby of Parliament and Rally organized by Unite on Wednesday March 7th (13.00 onwards: Lobby of Parliament; 18.00– 19.30: Rally at Central Hall, Westminster). If your CLP has a banner, take it to the rally.
• Link up with local branches of NHS trade unions such as Unison and Unite, and with sympathetic doctors and non-party defend the NHS campaigners to co-ordinate your activities.
• Run a public meeting or rally with your local Labour MP or other spokesperson and patient, doctor and NHS trade union speakers as well to build the campaign and get local press coverage.
• Write to your local paper expressing your concern and promoting the campaign.
The NHS is too precious an asset not to defend it with every ounce of strength we have. Many of us have had our lives saved by it. Now we have to save it. As Ed Miliband has said:
“It is not too late to stop this bill. We have three months to prevent great harm being done to the NHS. Now is the time for people of all parties and of none, the professions, the patients and now peers in the House of Lords to work together to try to stop this bill.”