Parliamentary Sketch : An unhealthy playground

The controversial and beleaguered Health Bill is approaching its end game. With the nurses, doctors, GPs, physiotherapists, midwives, other health professionals and workers as well as the Patients Association against the Bill, it’s hard to find supporters. And what support there may have been is ebbing away.

What difference will it make? I hear you ask.

Well, since the creation of the NHS 63 years ago, we’ve had a service which has primarily been driven by concern for patient care. I fear that the new service will be driven more by concern with private profit and tariff.

I supported the Coalition Agreement which promised to “stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care”. Then the Health Secretary – Andrew Lansley – brought forward a plan for the biggest reorganisation in NHS history.

Now most people don’t need to worry about whether strategic decisions are made by one acronym soup of quangos (PCTs, SHAs, etc) or another (CCGs, NCH, H&WBBs, etc) and I wouldn’t die in a ditch trying to save a quango which few people come into contact with. But the disruption caused by the changes is not justified by the dubious benefits.

I have been consistent in my opposition to the Bill, since it was first floated in July 2010. And I have been heartened that more have joined the cause. The Bill itself is contained in nearly 500 pages, 305 clauses and 23 schedules. It’s no wonder it has taken time for the opposition to muster.

This week I chose route 1. A straight challenge to ask the Health Secretary to kill the Bill. I tried the Prime Minister last month and he gave me an unconvincing excuse to carry on.

What concerns me most now is that the fortunes of our NHS should not be determined by the ludicrous way the Westminster Village does its business. Rather than considering the merits or otherwise of the Bill and offering the Health Secretary a dignified way to climb down, it has now been turned into an absurd political virility contest. Mr Lansley knows that he has to face down the opposition, the doctors, nurses, etc, otherwise he loses face and loses his job. There is no other outcome.

So the Bill – unpopular and damaging as it is – may be passed into law purely by default, just because there’s no way of taking this decision out of the political and media playground.

21st February 2012

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