6 Sep 2011

NHS: can it be saved?

Today the Tory government will try and force its Health and Social Care Bill through parliament. This bill dangerously opens up the NHS to privatisation, despite David Cameron’s claim to have ‘paused’. I am dismayed and disturbed by this Bill and the misinformation from the Government. I have already written several times to Neil Carmichael and yesterday emailed all the Lib Dem MPs. This Bill is taking risks that are wholly unnecessary and deeply damaging and furthermore goes directly against what Tories promised in opposition. For more information see www.keepournhspublic.org.uk and www.healthemergency.org.uk

Meanwhile there was a good turn out of Greens at the NHS public meeting last week amongst the 350 people there. I'm told there was a 'buoyant and heated debate' about lack of consultations and validity of proposals. A straw poll was carried out and only 6 people in the audience voted for a Social Enterprise model!!!! Where is the support for this Bill? See SNJ report here.  Radio Glos covered it extensively and Martin Horwood, Lib Dem Cheltenham MP has gone public seriously challenging the speed of setting up of this Social Enterprise.

Folk will remember that thousands of people paid towards the legal advice with the campaign group 38 degrees. Harrison Grant solicitors and the specialist barristers Stephen Cragg & Rebecca Haynes were engaged to give their independent legal advice on the implications of 2 aspects of the Health & Social Care Bill.  For some key findings click read more.

1.  Removing the Secretary of State’s Duty to Provide  - What the lawyers identified within the H&SC Bill:
The bill will remove the duty of the Secretary of State to provide or secure the provision of health services - a common & critical feature of all NHS legislation since 1946.
This is the means by which Parliament ensures the NHS delivers what the public want & expect.
Furthermore, a “hands-off clause” will severely curtail the Secretary of State's ability to influence the delivery of NHS care to ensure everyone receives the best healthcare possible.
What this could all mean:
No longer a National Health Service
Loss of Accountability – The Government washes its hands of the NHS
Loss of Accountability – Local representatives & health watchdogs lose their right to appeal
Postcode lottery
2. Opening the NHS up to Competition Law - What the lawyers identified within the H&SC Bill:
The Bill contains a number of measures which will increase competition within the NHS at the expense of collaboration & integration &/or make it almost inevitable that UK & EU competition law will apply as if it were a utility like gas or telecoms. This includes: giving Monitor the duty to eliminate so-called “anti-competitive” behaviour ; writing additional rules on competition into the law & making Monitor enforce them ; removing the limit on the amount of income NHS hospitals can earn from private health services ; handing significant new procurement responsibilities to the new Clinical Commissioning Groups ; permitting these new groups to outsource commissioning work to private companies.

What this could all mean:
Exposing the NHS to UK & EU Competition Law 
Costly & complex procurement procedures 
Fertile ground for private health companies (and their lawyers) -  Companies that bid unsuccessfully for NHS contracts will be able to challenge commissioning decisions in the courts.
Private health providers have far more expertise & legal capacity than either public bodies or charities, & so are likely to be best placed to exploit these laws.
Litigation could be time-consuming & costly for commissioning bodies.
Opening our NHS to private companies - privatisation by stealth
These plans will lead to a system geared heavily in favour of private companies.

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