This is not democracy: NHS reforms

Posted on October 17, 2011

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Some wit used his Sunday afternoon to offer Andrew Lansley’s integrity for sale on eBay yesterday, dubbing it a “brand new item, never used”. At a measly 1p, one wonders whether the Health Secretary might do well to put in an offer, such is the level of the anger directed at him and his rapidly more infamous NHS reforms.

Last week, we were placed in the ridiculous situation of relying on the House of Lords to safeguard democracy in this country, after the House of Commons somehow contrived to pass a bill that was not detailed in the Conservative manifesto, Lib Dem manifesto or coalition agreement. This is not something I would ever thought I would find myself doing, as a firm advocate of abolition of this unelected house. They were not, perhaps predictably, able or willing to put a stop to the bill‘s progress, in spite of the noble efforts of Lords Rea and Owen. So this unpopular bill powers on, regardless of the fact that it, prior to the advent of the Con-Dem government, it was not put to the electorate. Nobody voted for it. Nobody wants it. Yet Lansley and his bosses gamely soldier on.

I blogged on the level of opposition to the reforms back in January, and anyone seeking more details of the problems with the bill should take a look (in a nutshell, it involves delegating administrative power to GPs and opens the way for competition within the NHS). Since then, Cameron performed one of his tactical U-turns and held the bill back for further discussion. Yet it has now reared its ugly head again, largely in the same shape as before, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away. But nor is the continued public outcry at the government’s insistence in pushing through the reforms.

At the core of the debate is the fear that the reforms clear the way for the introduction of competition into the health service, and perhaps constitute the first phase of a long-term Tory plan to privatise it. The Tories tell us that such issues have been addressed, that co-operation will continue to be the prime facet of the NHS. Yet as Dr Phil Hammond pointed out to Lansley during last week’s Question Time, the word ‘competition’ features 86 times in the bill, compared to a tiny four mentions of ‘co-operation’. Nobody is convinced by the government’s tweaking, or prepared to believe that the bill will be adequately altered in the committee stage. It seems Lansley and his government are prepared to whitewash the widespread condemnation of what these reforms entail, and steamroll through the most undemocratic, top-down reorganisation our health service has ever seen. And nobody can do anything to stop them.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics