Jos Bell reports on the latest developments on the health and social care bill, as the battle to save the NHS goes on
Yes, despite loudhailer calls from across the country – and beyond – for the health and social care bill to be dropped from a great height into the deepest of holes, we still find ourselves embroiled in what has developed into a labyrinthine piece of legislation to outrival all other possible contenders.
Just as the bill is a complex and contradictory mess, so the responses to it become ever more complicated and intricate. With so much to untangle it’s a rather good thing we were gifted an extra day in which to shape shift the running contents.
As shadow health minister Baroness Glenys Thornton pointedly said:
“Every time we meet on report on this bill we are in a different world. The world we are in today is not the same one we were in 10 days ago.
“As we speak, the Royal College of Physicians has decided by a majority of 80 per cent to ballot its members about how they feel about the health and social care bill. By my counting that leaves only two royal colleges which have not consulted their membership so far.
“We all know what the results of the consultations have been, but still we plough on with this bill.”
With the business committee refusing to admit the 162,000 signature petition debate, health secretary Andrew Lansley refusing to meet key medical groups and Lord Hunt (of King’s Heath, Labour) railing against the spin doled out to the Commons, the blatant dishonesty of the government is swathed in velvet when it gets taken into ‘another place’.
Despite the surrounding furore, last week in the Lords saw two more days of debate on the report stage of the health and social care bill, Earl Howe (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health) behaving as though he is merely cantering through some rather irritating long grass, occasionally stopping to elegantly paw the turf whilst waiting for the wind to change.
David Cameron and Andrew Lansley having repeatedly said the bill is immovable and intractable, those winds of change are now creeping into debate such that Lansley this week lifted a load off health minister Simon Burns by telling the Commons the nitty gritty is being sorted out in ‘another place’.
In the Lords, Earl Howe is no longer simply clinging to the masthead of the Future Forum changes but openly states the government is now open to ‘other thoughts’.
We all know Nick Clegg has announced that bill changes must now be afoot in order for the bill to be acceptable to his party – more than implying Baroness Williams (of Crosby, Liberal Democrats) is the key to this success.
The great debate now revolves around the question of “are these amendments to be fabrications or the real deal?” Are they true or false? Is this a stunt or are these genuine safeguards? The Lib Dems’ Gateshead spring conference on this weekend will (possibly) tell all via a likely tourney of Beveridge Group archers v Orange Book lancers at dawn.
No matter of which faction, surely they must all be viewing their future voting prosperity with no little anxiety?
Clearly despite the government attempting to denigrate the veracity of the medical colleges (abetted by the Guardian’s so-called patient advocate ‘Dick Vinegar’) that the results represent the vast majority voice of the medical profession is obvious. In addition, for those members of the government benches in the Commons who have been busily trying to portray GPs at ‘the private sector’, Lord Walton (of Detchant, Crossbencher) clarified their status in debate – they are NHS sub-contractors.
One such, a former advisor to Lansley, has called for the bill to be scrapped; then Laurence Buckman, the chairman of the BMA GPs’ committee, also wrote with concerns on March 1st; and now in an heroic gesture, Dr Clive Peedell – who with Dr David Wilson has previously run 160 miles in six days in a bid to highlight the plight of the NHS – feels so strongly about the lack of attention paid to expert voices by the government that he is now set to do a second Bevansrun.
We also find the City and Hackney Group (CCG) asking the prime minister to withdraw the bill.
Today, the Information Rights Tribunal heard the government’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision and their finding will emerge within the next 24 hours; it remains doubtful, though, that even wild horses would make Lansley and Cameron disclose.
• Even GPs implementing Cameron’s health reforms have come out against them – Daniel Elton, February 28th 2012
• Nick Clegg’s letter to Lib Dem MPs and peers is just furious spin concealing NHS privatisation – Labour health team internal analysis, February 27th 2012
• Look Left – “A mess… unnecessary… setting the NHS back”: Another attack on the health bill – Shamik Das, February 26th 2012
• Being aware of the risk, how can the government carry on regardless? – Jos Bell, February 25th 2012
• How the coalition is breaking the NHS – Alex Hern, February 15th 2012