Lib Dem grassroots seek to protect NHS

Lib Dem activists at the party's spring conference will be speak out against NHS plans that go against either established party policy, democratically agreed upon at previous conferences, or our values.

This weekend Liberal Democrats will gather in Sheffield at our Spring Conference, and among the more contentious issues we will be debating the government’s reforms to the National Health Service.

For those readers unfamiliar with the detailed workings of a Lib Dem conference – among whom may well be experienced Lib Dems themselves – here’s a brief overview of how that debate will pan out. Some weeks ago health minister Paul Burstow tabled a motion for debate entitled Updating the NHS: Personal and Local.

The motion largely endorses the government’s NHS white paper Equity and Excellence, but in places does so in terms that many Lib Dem activists believe go against either established party policy, democratically agreed upon at previous conferences, or our values.

Having seen the motion Dr. Charles West, Dr. Evan Harris and others drafted two amendments which seek to, among other things:

  • ensure competition on price is absolutely ruled out
  • restore the NHS as preferred provider and to retain commissioning as a public function, and
  • ensure that evolutionary improvements are made within the NHS without some of  the revolutionary, market-based changes proposed.

Key to the amendments is the following point:

“Conference regrets that some of the proposed reforms have never been Liberal Democrat policy, did not feature in our manifesto or in the coalition agreement, which instead called for an end to large-scale top-down reorganisations [to the NHS].”

The amendments tabled secured unprecedented support, with four local party associations and 133 individual conference representatives signing up – just ten signatures are required to table an amendment. The movers of the amendments have since been inundated with further statements of support, indicating just how vital it is that the NHS is protected from destabilising market forces and non-evidence based reorganisations.

The debate over NHS reforms is so key that the Social Liberal Forum, with support from Keep our NHS public and The Guardian, has organised a fringe meeting to take place on Friday March 11th, the day before the motion is to be debated. It features Paul Burstow, Baroness Shirley Williams, Drs. Harris and West all debating the issues at hand, alongside Jeremy Hargreaves who tabled a separate amendment calling for greater localised democratic accountability.

I’ll be chairing the fringe meeting, where we hope to debate the merits of the Government’s NHS White Paper, as well as to raise many of the concerns detailed in the various amendments. Paul Burstow has indicated that at both the fringe meeting and in the main floor debate, he will be listening and taking note of the concerns raised – as the NHS reforms are so very controversial it appears as though the Party leadership is willing to listen to our concerns and work with us to produce the best Lib Dem health policy possible.

I hope the Lib Dem activists and Parliamentarians joining us in Sheffield will help set out how Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for a fair and democratically accountable National Health Service – during the fringe debate (Friday 8pm-10pm) you may wish to follow @soclibforum and the hashtags #SLFNHS and #ldconf on Twitter for updates on how things are going.

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