Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Holding the Liberal Democrats to account at their Spring Conference.

“There can never be a better time for a Beveridge”

Despite widespread opposition to the bill from nearly all NHS stakeholders , the Liberal Democrats are still propping up the Health and Social Care Bill. Considering the following public statements from leading professional bodies, this political postitioning is nothing short of disgraceful.

Professor Terence Stephenson, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH):
“It is clear that a substantial majority of our voting members believe that the Health and Social Care Bill carries risk for children and young people”

This message was echoed by 154 prominent paediatricians in a letter to the Lancet, which stated:

Professor Lyndsey Davies, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health (UKFPH):
“It is clear that the majority of our members now believe that the Health and Social Care Bill, if passed, will damage the NHS and the health of people in England”

Professor Finbarr C Martin, President, British Geriatrics Society (BGS)
“We are concerned that the Bill does not support the changes necessary to provide integrated, high quality consistent care for our ageing population and has a serious risk of undermining the progress made in recent years”

Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs
“GPs don’t think the bill is going to create a patient led NHS, they don’t think it is going to increase autonomy, they don’t think it is going to improve patient care, and they don’t think it is going to improve healthcare inequalities”

It is clear that professional bodies think that the bill will damage the NHS and harm patient care. It is therefore simply unacceptable that politicians continue to support this bill. They are clearly putting politics before patients. Even Baroness Williams has damaged her own reputation on the NHS. She is a friend of the NHS no longer.
However, it is somewhat reassuring that at least some grassroots Liberal Democrats are calling on their party to withdraw their support for the Health and Social Care Bill. Dr Charles West, a GP and Liberal Democrat for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has launched a petition for this purpose, and has also put an important emergency motion on the Health Bill forward for debate at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference.
The Liberal Democrats have a proud heritage of supporting public services and social welfare through state intervention. This is very much based on the work of famous Liberals like William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes. However, more recently, the Liberal Democrat Party has been consumed by the free-market neoliberal ideology of Orange Book liberals, who include Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and David Laws. I thoroughly recommend this article by Simon Kovar, which goes into some detail on this subject. Some of their philosophy marries very well modern conservatism, and the fact they formed a coalition Government with the Conservatives is not surprising in the slightest. This is an excellent and prescient article from Tribune magazine on this topic.       
The centre left of the party, which represents the majority of grassroots LibDems has been decimated by the centre right Orange Bookers. The Liberal Democrat attack on the NHS is therefore completely understandable in political terms. The Orange Book, which was published in 2004 notoriously called for a social insurance system, with private providers to replace public provision of NHS care. I’ve described this previously in some more detail in this Hospital Doctor blog
Tellingly, a younger Nick Clegg in 2005 was quoted in the Independent as saying
"One very, very important point - I think breaking up the NHS is exactly what you do need to do to make it a more responsive service."

On a more positive note, the progressive wing of the Liberal Democrats has reformed the Beveridge Group . Their website states that:
The revival of the Beveridge Group has been stimulated by a growing awareness that there is no fundamental debate about the role of public services within the coalition”

Key members include Tim Farron (President of the LibDems), Andrew George, John Pugh, Simon Hughes, Norman Baker and Alistair Carmichael.
It is therefore of vital importance for the NHS that this group sticks to its longstanding and proud principles and protects the NHS by coming out against the bill. Andrew George has done this already and Tim Farron has been critical of the bill. However, the group needs to have the courage to go further. The Conference must support Dr Charles West’s motion and not water it down.
The “Bevan-Beveridge Run” aims to raise awareness of the dangers of the bill and simulate debate with the Liberal Democrat ranks about where their loyalties lie. Do they support the NHS or do they support it’s destruction by the Orange Bookers? It’s time to decide
In our view:
“There can never be a better time for a Beveridge”

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