Liberal Democrats debate Health Bill – we must find a dignified withdrawal strategy

Andrew George (Liberal Democrat MP on the Health Select Committee) will continue his consistent opposition to the Government’s Health Bill, in spite of further concessions to the Liberal Democrats in the Lords this week.

He congratulated his Liberal Democrat colleagues in the House of Lords for securing important concessions which make the Bill “less bad” but argues that the Bill is still “not good enough” to be unleashed on the NHS.

Before travelling to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Gateshead this weekend, Mr George said:

“Liberal Democrats both in the Commons – during last year’s pause – and in the Lords have successfully secured important concessions to the Government’s Health Bill. All should be congratulated on making the Bill less bad.

“Those who have spent hundreds of hours toiling over the 500 page Bill and negotiating amendments will, of course, not take kindly to being told that all their efforts still do not make the Bill good enough for it to be unleashed on the NHS.

“It is not just that the Bill misses the opportunity to create a more genuinely accountable service which is properly integrated with social care, it is that it risks creating a National Health Service which will be driven more by concern for private profit than for patient care.

“Amendments I tabled last year sought to protect the NHS from the forces in the Bill which would fragment essential services. Collaboration between clinicians should trump competition between them.

“However, the Government’s line remains the same in spite of the concessions this week. Ministers see “collaboration” as tantamount to “collusion”, whereas “competition” is seen as having the virtue of “enhancing patient choice”.

“Worthy, logical and welcome amendments and improvements to the Bill have not resulted in a change of course for Governmentpolicy.

“Tragically, the merits of any of the many arguments against it are not what will stop the Bill. Fearing “Humiliating climb down” headlines, any Government would resist the late withdrawal of a major plank of legislation simply because of the existence of the ‘political virility contest’ climate in Westminster.

“Keeping up the pressure – at the Liberal Democrat Conference and elsewhere – will help. But the only real chance of persuading the Government to withdraw the Bill (it cannot be defeated now in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords) is to create and offer the Government an honourable and dignified exit strategy. It may be down to the Royal Colleges, who have almost unanimously come out in opposition to the Bill, to call their own “summit” with the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary and offer them a dignified way out.”

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