Jos Bell reports on the latest Parliamentary developments in the health and social care bill, with the legislation set to be passed into law.
If you were given the remote control and asked to click on the news channel with the most reliable reputation, which one would you choose? Last week the BBC reported Dr Clare Gerada had said the Royal College of GPs were now in support of the health and social care bill.
Andrew Lansley of course made great play of this in the Commons debate the following day. Flip over to Sky and there was a very different message – Dr Gerada and her College continue to be opposed to the bill.
What she had actually said was that instead of being unconstructively blocked from Downing Street and Department of Health meetings they wanted to work with the government, who she asked to cast aside political ideology in favour of patient care by calling a halt to the bill.
In an effort to bridge its ‘on-message’ gap, the BBC website gives us this 1998 piece showing overt opposer of the Bill Roy Lilley as critical of the NHS (at a time when Thatcher and Major had left it in desperate straits).
At the same time our traditionally most trusted channel has not only made no mention of doctors protesting in Whitehall yesterday kettled by machine-gun toting special police they have also made no mention of the very contemporary, constitutionally serious matter of the government’s withholding of the Transitional Risk Register – which the government by turns maintains is both irrelevant and altogether too scary to be seen.
Meanwhile Lord Charlie Faulkner knows differently.
Elsewhere, feast our eyes on the hint-hint clues within the Faculty of Public Health Risk Assessment.
Last week Gerald Kaufman in the Commons, after highlighting the absurdity of ‘the NHS is Safe in Our Hands’ Conservative Party-contrived election posters, accused the government of callously “turning everyone’s favourite older sister” Baroness Williams.
Waving a near-ancient prophetic hand at the Conservative benches, his tremulous voice echoed around the Chamber:
“The nation will remember and the nation will never forgive.”
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Also last week, on Friday there emerged a joint move by various representative groups to petition the Queen. The NHS Consultants Association, the NHS Support Federation, Keep our NHS Public, and Public Health for NHS are asking for Royal Assent to be withheld as a “gift to the people in this her Diamond Jubilee Year”.
Hundreds of last ditch attempts to save our NHS from a terrible Jubilee fate are taking place across the country. In addition to more planned marches and Pickles Picnics, the global campaigning organisation Avaaz has launched another petition, clocking 30 signatures per minute.
It seems unlikely Her Majesty has ever availed herself of the NHS and the royal shares portfolio remains unknown, so it remains to be seen whether she would be either willing or able to persuade her prime minister to think again. If she did so it would undoubtedly make her forever ‘the people’s Queen’.
Historic times; and as iterated in the House of Lords Lobby last week, “where will it all end?”
The day after the Westminster rally, as the Lords worked their way through another swath of late evening health (without social care) amendment debates, Lord Owen sat up on the scarlet cushions by the throne surveying the damage, his shock of white hair standing out dramatically against the candlelit gold and red backdrop. Richard the Lionheart and King Arthur must have struck a similar demeanour back in their day.
Time and again he had watched his old political ally Lord Steele encourage Lib Dem Lords through the government lobby. In the warning weeks of October, Lord Ashdown had parachuted in and put the kybosh on his special select committee amendment debate with Lord Hennessy; lately his former Gang of Four friend Baroness Williams has become a misrepresentation of her former self.
Later today, Lord Owen will personally bring the full half a million signatures of the 38 degrees petition in support of the NHS onto the floor of the House of Lords prior to putting his amendment, asking for the halting of the progress of the Bill until the Transitional Risk Register is released. Anything else he views as unconstitutional abuse of the medical profession and the people.
For Baroness Thornton, leader of the Lords shadow health team, the hundreds of heroic hours spent trying to wring some sense into this “shambles of a Bill” whilst the greater virtue would lie in abandoning it to the sarcophagus of the most misconceived pieces of legislation in history, the events of the past weeks represents both a political and personal tragedy.
Aside from the prospect of the bill becoming enshrined in statute, she is obviously distressed about her long term political friend Shirley becoming “a great lady brought low”, her interview in the Guardian is unequivocal in its phraseology:
“This is an ideologically driven bill and the Lib Dems capitulated. Ministers lied to get it through. I know it’s unusually unparliamentary language but I am really horrified.
“They have sold us a pup… We have 48 hours to save the NHS.”
Today, she will also bring her own motion asking peers to oppose “that this bill do now pass”.
“Never have so many opposed so much to be listened to so little,” Jonathan Reynolds MP said in the opposition debate last Tuesday, directly accusing the government of “using the NHS for the benefit of the private sector”.
Rather than being torn apart at the seams by a manipulative government, these health specialists should have been allowed to concentrate on medical matters of pressing need, such as Nancy Chan from the World Health Organization (WHO) alerting the medical world to the growing resistance to antibiotics, the urgency of addressing capacity issues in primary care and the “tsunami of dementia about to hit”.
Meanwhile, GP Susi Harris rebuts the Lansley ‘reducing bureaucracy’ claim; be sure to watch until the final frame, showing the before and the after…
In the Guardian ‘100 NHS voices’ feature, Krishna Chuttoo, a nursing teacher from Lewisham, observed:
‘The other day I was in a meeting with a hospital director and I said: “What do you look for – profit before health or health before profit?” He couldn’t answer me.”
Increased car parking charges are just the tip of the Titanic iceberg it seems.
The latest private sector information to hit the headlines has come in the shape of a further 7,000 women being in need of the removal of faulty breast implants, coupled with the alarming prospect of either Virgin Health or Serco being handed the £130 million contract to manage the complex and sensitive work of Devon NHS children’s services – where neither of them have any expertise at all in this area.
Indeed Serco have been the cause of unnecessary child mortality in a badly run out of hours GP service, previously highlighted by the local MP – Andrew George.
Meanwhile, we can take some crumbs of discomfort in the knowledge that at some point during the Lords committee stage, Mr Lansley sneaked through a backdoor change which means the private sector is to be immune from the Freedom of Information Act:
As the heroic chair of the Royal College of GPs, Clare Gerada, tweeted:
“No-cooperate multinationals will take over our #NHS. Whitehall will be irrelevent.”
She also re-tweeted Felix Oxley’s table to show the level of opposition versus support for the bill across the full range of medical colleges.
In response to this, Baroness Finlay, another hero of late night defend the NHS sittings, will present a third reading amendment in an attempt to ensure commissioning contracts are made public. We can only hope the majority of Lords limbered up this morning chanting “Save the NHS” with their tai chi.
For those politicians who have chosen to hang on like grim death to this shipwreck of a bill, seemingly designed to destroy the NHS and the lives of many people who need to rely upon it, we can only wonder at their mindset.
In response, we also now know doctors are gearing up to challenge coalition MPs at the next election on an NHS ticket – we can only hope this will not turn out to be the only way that they will be able to safeguard their patients.
Meanwhile, true to form when they feel under pressure, the government has thrown in a curveball to divert the news media into a cul de sac. Private health? Of course not. Private roads? Splendid notion!
So what will the future hold? Free and fair or taking a toll? Of one thing we can be sure: if you ‘heart’ the NHS, today is going to be a very bumpy blue light ambulance ride; let’s hope we can make it to A&E in time for emergency resus.