Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway

Jos Bell gives an account of the key House Lords debate this week on the health and social care bill.

NHS campaigner Jos Bell presents an eyewitness sketch of the House of Lords debate on the health and social care bill, which took place this week

“This Bill needs serious scrutiny and improvement” – Viscount Eccles (Conservative)

Indeed.

If it were not so ironic it could be reassuring: during the course of the House of Lords second reading of the health and social care bill almost every Lord or Baroness who spoke referred to the need to amend the bill in one way or another.

That included the government lead, Earl Howe (Conservative), who, with Glenys Thornton (Labour) for the opposition, sat through 17 hours of debate over Tuesday and Wednesday, along with the added wild card of the redoubtable Lord Owen (Crossbench), the former Labour health minister finding himself dragged back into the health arena from his usual foreign affairs dealings by his own genuine alarm about Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley’s stated aim to dismantle the NHS.

To say the proceedings had edge would be the parliamentary understatement of the decade.

The throne glinted in the candlelight and the watching cobwebs hung from the towering gothic rafters. On the following morning the bishops would be out in force in their flowing robes. History in action.

Twelve hours into the debate and Baroness Angela Smith (Labour) softly and clearly read out the damning list: just in the past week, 400 practicing medical professionals had written a letter of protest to The Times, 60 more, including the general secretary of the RCM, to The Independent; 100,000 people had signed a 38 Degrees petition in support of Lord Owen’s amendments in the past day (which visibly perked up His Lordship and raised a sotto voce late night cheer)… And so the list went on.

As Baroness Scotland (Labour) said in her graceful speech on the following morning, this was a debate for the whole country – she even spoke of ‘feeling the love’ for the NHS. Lords whose speeches will now forever be engraved in history stood to speak with passion, concern and learning.

Ninety-year-old Lord Walton (Crossbench), with decades of NHS upheavals as a point of reference, offered a show stopping speech. He had earlier told me he had received around 3oo letters and emails with not a single one in favour of the bill.

Now to Lords Monks (Labour) and Harris (Labour):

“What if a CCG fails?… What if the GPs are not up to it?… Also, what if they insist on managing treatment within practice to detriment of patients?”

The Haxby HGB example was repeatedly flagged up as a telling tale of GPs bringing in fees for small procedures which allegedly “fell outside the NHS”.

Time and time again, speakers reiterated it was the wrong bill at the wrong time, with £20 billion savings targets; that such a massive upheaval, ‘galloping in the external market’, was not needed and would cause irreparable damage; and that there is pressing need to build upon current expertise rather than risk losing it, a fact even spoken of by some Tories.

Predictably, the lack of mandate and Lansley “shrinking his role when expanding the role of the market” was flagged up ad infinitum – to which the alarmed Earl Freddie Howe (Conservative) surreally revolved the post-election ‘consultation period’ backwards into a subliminal pre-election alert. One noble Lord’s observation the government is “losing the plot” seemed to be entirely in order.

The designated role of Monitor being an overall threat to the NHS due to a lack of accountability and lack of transparency was spoken of best by Baroness Helena Kennedy (Labour) – it is entirely crucial. Entrepreneurial Lord Whitty (Labour) economically perceived the “rationale re: cost saving is no longer clear”, and equally crucially that it was quite “unclear what anti-competitive behaviour would be”.

From Baroness Barker (Liberal Democrat), oh yes, “accountability is of great concern – also upholding standards”. However, she then told Lord Owen (almost wringing her hands with the effort) that no, she would not be supporting his proposal. His Lordship glowered from his cross bench and she sat to fold her arms in defensive fashion, clearly desperate for the overnight moment when Paddy Pants would come and rescue her from serial bombardment on the morrow.

There was much concern about the lack of independence of HealthWatch – and insufficient attention to its advocacy role:

“…which is so much more than outlined in the Bill.”

Lord Victor Adebowale (Crossbench) asked if health inequality would improve as a result; his next point more than inferred an answer in the negative when he voiced great concerns for the needs of those with complex and multiple conditions which ‘the tarriff’ avoids at these patients’ peril. Treatments and care packages “that don’t happen due to those that are left out” – the bill does not show it and it must!

The threat to childrens’ services and the loss of all the gains under “every child matters”, including much concern regarding lack of provision for cared-for children, speech and language specialists, and provision for autism.

Said Baroness Massey (Labour):

“The voice of the child must be heard.”

The danger of unregistered carers was a running theme, and Baroness Joan Bakewell (Labour) spoke eloquently about the threat to the care of the elderly – reiterated by others who have concerns about the relationship with local authorities and funding issues, plus a need for more details regarding community care development – although Tory Lord Lucas wanted more details on how people “would look after their own”. Touché!

We were told the treatment of armed forces personnel needs more attention, a point missed by Lord Ashdown (Liberal Democrat), who was notably absent throughout all but the final minutes, to act as nemesis to his old sparring partner from the days of the gang of four.

Many cited the urgent need to safeguard our long tradition of medical training and research, while Lord MacKenzie (Labour) asked for more emphasis on developing clinical leadership in hospitals.

Personal stories were used to illustrate both the value of and threat to our NHS.

Hereditary peers who tend to fall below our collective radar popped up – Earl Clancarty (Crossbench) spoke movingly of his daughter’s care and then the Earl Listowel (Crossbench) said:

“We need to show staff support, for they cannot show support and kindness unless they experience it themself.”

Baroness Royall (Labour) spoke bravely of her personal experience with her late husband’s cancer care, fearing for the future of other patients; Lord Bill Morris (Labour), in what almost felt like a eulogy, spoke wistfully of a service publicly owned and publicly funded; Lord Crisp (Crossbench) then lamented the:

“…wasted opportunity; instead it will be all about commercial contracts, not about securing quality cost.”

Lord Collins (Labour) stood at 12:20 am to explore the threat to public health provision and co-ordination. The loss of expertise and safeguards for HIV specialists and the threat to established integrated care for chronic conditions – a view shared by Diabetes UK. Let us not forget that in the background there were myriad patients’ groups hanging onto every word.

Sadly, we now know the result. Liberal Democrats who chose to ignore the wise words of Shirley slithered their way into the discontents and she seemingly didn’t vote at all. Those Tories who regretted the bill had tended to rationalise their support for it by expressing the view that matters had gone too far to change direction. More evidence, if any were needed, that “this House has been taken for granted”, as Lord Monks had admonished.

The rueful walk of Lord Winston (Labour) towards the tellers’ bench and the rows of empty opposition seats told us all we needed to know.

It’s worth mentioning here how many have links to private health.

Mr Lansley’s aim to ‘do it quick’ has gathered the pace and dragged the legislation behind it, after months of epic campaigning and an increasing clamour of professional and patient voices – to the point where it would seem only a very small percentage of the population have any faith at all in the contorted and contrived bill. The hour came when the chance of rescuing the NHS from the brink of extinction had gone.

As one shadow front bench member afterwards told me, from now on it will be ‘trench warfare’. All we can now hope for is the sensible addition of amendments which will safeguard as much of the service as possible, but with such a short time to consider all of these points (yet another paltry 10-day allocation) this will need to be an all guns blazing approach indeed.

One Labour Lord asked:

“How does the high sounding rhetoric match up to the reality?”

Here’s the thing – one of the saddest results of this week of anti-history, where so much of what we have learned has been thrown away onto a Lansley pyre, is the palpable sense our Parliament has become considerably more removed from the people it was meant to serve. We cried out to you so very loudly, my Lords; why did not more of you listen?

That is the reality.

See also:

Lansley told to his face why his NHS reforms are wrong, wrong, wrong – Shamik Das, October 14th 2011

Lord Owen: NHS is under threat like never before – Alex Hern, October 11th 2011

UK Uncut: Stop the traffic to stop the NHS being run over – Tim Holmes, October 7th 2011

Second reading of NHS bill offers a second chance to kill it – Alex Hern, October 6th 2011

Baroness Williams: Coalition “bewitched by a flawed US system” – Shamik Das, September 3rd 2011

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38 Responses to “Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway”

  1. Jodie Madden

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  2. Randomly Left

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  3. carboncoach

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  4. sandy

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  5. Dr. Claire Tupling

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  6. South Londoner

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  7. Nell Epona Bridges

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill– then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/5trlcohK by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  8. Michael

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/VC2dLfTC

  9. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/ze3q9qkx

  10. Jill Hayward

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/VC2dLfTC

  11. Political Planet

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: Jos Bell gives an account of t… http://t.co/4QoVtPuU

  12. Barbara Hulme

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  13. Jos Bell

    helo Twitterland – has anything been happening since i was here last?? http://t.co/M0qhhjPb Many thanks @leftfootfwd !!

  14. w.m o'mara

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the #NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/5j6RMq3o Betrayal & regrets

  15. D.

    "@leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/4rnA1PVP #NHS #SaveTheNHS"

  16. Andy Bean

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/VC2dLfTC

  17. Jos Bell

    Since writing this I can now hopefully help to lift the mood of pressimism a little … Lord Owen has written to me to say that although his and Lord Hennessy’s proposals were overturned, it’s their belief that the quality and content of the debate has lifed to argument in both the public consciousness and also with more likelihood of the government making way for amendments. Since then a government Lord has commented that the Bill will be very different in form than at present ( currently version 17!) when it returns to the Commons. Vitally, Earl Howe, who is very well liked on all sides of the Lords has specifically made it clear that he is open to amendements – and the indefatigable Opposition lead, Baroness Glenys Thornton will most definitely hold him to that! Amendements presented will need to be very clear and specific to move through the timeframe allowed – let’s hope it works!

  18. Alan Cowan

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/mXWdF9yU

  19. L

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  20. Sarah Amani

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/YretOJeB via @zite

  21. Diane Lawrence

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/rNQ9smNx

  22. Nina Killen

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  23. Jos Bell

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  24. Emma Davies

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  25. Lewisham SOS NHS

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  26. Albion first

    And just like the Govermnment and the Lords. You talk of ‘the NHS’ implying the UK NHS, which it isn’t. It’s entirely about the English NHS. About time you started to acknowledge the truth of asymmetric devolution.

  27. DEAN JAMES

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  28. chris paling

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  29. Jos Bell

    Yes Albion First – it is about the NHS in England – explained in my previous articles and on our Facebook Lewisham SOS NHS Campaign page, apols if I didn’t re-iterate.

  30. CAROLE JONES

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/ja7NFkpf by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS

  31. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    This doesn’t bode well for the Welfare Reform bill either, which had just as much concern in the Lords but a fraction of the media coverage and has gone to committee. I expect it will pass virtually unchanged.

  32. Jos Bell

    Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway: http://t.co/S5lw9NhD by @Jos21 #SaveTheNHS @leftfootfwd

  33. Christine Hill

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/gLzlOf6u

  34. Pen

    RT @leftfootfwd: Losing the plot: How the Lords rubbished the NHS bill – then voted for it anyway http://t.co/gLzlOf6u

  35. Ruth Appleton

    I am disgusted by the voting result following such eloquent criticisms of the Bill. If the Yes voters have no cogent argument to refute the criticisms, they shouldnt vote. They aren’t worth the money we pay them to do their duty! They should be ousted!

  36. Like arthritis, Lansley’s NHS bill is attacking the very thing it should protect | Left Foot Forward

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  37. Sarah

    I am disgusted and afraid at how they have done this to this country. I know they will just ‘OK’ the welfare reforn bill because it is not affecting them directly. They are millionaires. I fear for my own future as the two things that keep me here will be damaged irreparably. Leaving me with no money to live, and no hospital to help me to live.

    And I stupidly thought the Lords would have more sense than Conseravive and definitely more sense than the LibDems who are pathetic in their following of Conservative for their 15 mins of being in govt.

  38. Lord Owen: If coalition continue to appeal Risk Register, Bill must be paused | Left Foot Forward

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