Image: Professor Allyson Pollock at the "NHS Bill 2015" launch on Saturday
If we are to stop the NHS in England becoming simply a memory, we need urgent - but entirely possible - changes to the law. That’s the message of a new campaign launched by Professor Allyson Pollock on Saturday at the Liberal Democrat Conference.
The “Campaign for an NHS Reinstatement Bill 2015" has produced an “NHS Reinstatement Bill” which sets out the legal steps needed not only to reverse the failings of the Health & Social Care Act 2012, but to fully restore the NHS in England as an accountable public service.
Launching the campaign, Professor Pollock - who has co-authored the proposed Bill with lawyer Peter Roderick - called on voters to ask all general election candidates to support the Bill.
The Bill would abolish ‘competition’ and the division of the NHS into ‘purchasing’ and ‘providing’ bodies, and restrict the role of commercial companies in the NHS.
Two decades of policies which have been intent on moving the NHS towards privatisation have failed to improve services and have instead created costly bureaucracy, contends Pollock - one of the leading academics in this area.
A coalition of leading NHS campaign groups including Keep Our NHS Public and Health Emergency have pledged their support to the Bill, alongside OurNHS openDemocracy, which has been supporting the Bill from its very earliest genesis. OurNHS and other experienced NHS experts and campaigners have worked closely with Professor Pollock and Lord Owen to help develop a new version that is a truly comprehensive solution to the privatisation destroying the NHS.
The Green Party is already signed up. Caroline Lucas MP said
“The NHS is in mortal danger and we need a Bill that will protect it now and for future generations. The assault of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was possible in the context of more than two decades of policies that commercialised and marketised the NHS. This is an excellent Bill that seeks to restore the NHS to the truly public service that is so close to our nation’s heart and it has my full backing.”
The proposed Bill also has the backing of former health secretary Lord Owen, who said
“As the failures of the 2012 Act become daily ever more obvious, this Bill provides a template for very necessary reinstatement and reform.”
Owen points out that the proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill is realistic and would be implemented at a timescale and in a manner decided by the Health Secretary - though it would restore his or her legal duty to provide the NHS with immediate effect.
The Bill aims to implement the necessary changes as smoothly as possible, retaining some aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, but drawing the best examples of NHS administration over its history. Campaigners want the proposed Bill included in the first Queen’s Speech of a new government. Pollock sought to allay concerns about ‘another reorganisation’ at the launch meeting, saying that vested interests will always use this as an excuse not to restore the NHS.
The packed meeting heard that to do little or nothing means endorsing the current chaos and massively wasteful market bureaucracy. These costs divert money from frontline staff - as much as 25% of the NHS budget, according to a minority report by the Liberal Democrat Public Services Working Party. Their leader, GP Charles West, endorsed the NHS Reinstatement Bill, saying it was the same as his groups proposals to end the NHS market. The Lib Dem rebel proposals were refused a vote by the leadership at Conference this weekend.
The NHS Bill 2015 campaigners see their proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill as complementary to - but likely to go further than - a private members Bill by Labour backbencher Clive Efford MP. Efford's Bill is due to be heard this November but the text is not yet public. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said that Efford’s Bill will remove ‘the most noxious elements of the Health & Social Care Act’, though private members bills are usually short - and rarely become law without government support.
The NHS Bill 2015 campaign aims rather to ensure the election of a government - of whatever colour - with a clear mandate to restore the NHS to its founding vision, and a legal roadmap of exactly how to do it, as smoothly as possible.
A publicly run NHS is popular with voters of all hues - 84% of all voters, and 77% of Tory voters, want the NHS run by the public sector, and only 7% (13% of Tory voters) want it run by the private sector, according to a recent YouGov poll.
Yet private spending by the NHS broke though the £10billion barrier for the first time last year, according to Labour, and the privatisation is accelerating, even as its failures become ever more apparent.
The campaign has set up a website, www.nhsbill2015.org, enabling voters to email their local candidates for parliament asking them to pledge support.
Campaigners are also inviting further comments on the Bill - email responses to nhsrbconsultation[at]gmail.com.
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