It’s been a frantic week for those avidly following the NHS reforms – from grassroots Lib Dem rebellions, mounting opposition among doctors and the general public to the Bill, registered via 38 Degrees, through to further embarrassments to the Tory leadership who stand accused of hiding evidence of satisfaction among the public for the NHS.
A week yesterday, fissures deepened in the coalition government on the NHS – Lib Dems sent a strong message from their party conference rejecting the marketisation of the health service, along with other demanded concessions on the bill. Their revolt was just the beginning of a week that may come to define the final hour in Lansley’s attempt to dismantle our health service. While the Secretary of State suggested he could “amend” his reforms, sources at the Number 10 have so far denied any intention to radically rewrite the bill. Time will tell if they bow to public opinion.
Next came an emergency meeting of doctors on Tuesday that paved the way for a renewed injection of rebellion for the British Medical Association – delegates to the meeting called for a halt to the top down reorganisation, eroding any possibility of Lansley arguying the medical profession was in support of his plans. The meeting were highly critical of the misuse of information and evidence that has emanated from government spokespeople, and said there was “no mandate” for the plans in either party’s political manifestos. The Government responded by saying the meeting was unrepresentative of the BMA membership, and that there would be only “minor” changes to the language of the bill. (Incidentally, there was a representative poll of UK doctors earlier this month, that showed just as much in the way of opposition to the Bill – see http://www.bma.org.uk/healthcare_policy/nhs_white_paper/moripoll2011members.jsp)
The pressure builds in Westminister
Building on the growing discontent from all quarters, Labour sought in Parliamentary Questions on Wednesday to press Cameron on his justification for continuing to ignore opposition, even among his own coalition government. The Prime Minister failed to answer clearly whether more concessions were forthcoming on the bill, and was dealt a blow by Miliband in his reminder of previous promises for an end to top-down reorganisations of the health service.
Next, it was reported on Wednesday that Tory MPs were formally registering concerns with the Bill, urging ministers to listen to patients, professionals and experts all saying the Bill will threaten patient care. Dr Sarah Wollaston, Charles Walker, Douglas Carswell and Anne Main, all Tory MPs, signed a cross-party motion that strengthened current feeling that Torys themselves are growing more worried with Lansley’s plans, particularly when he is not seen to be taking health professionals with him in his radical plans.
Fighting to protect the health service
Action at a grassroots level swung into action, as campaign group 38 Degrees registered over 200,000 petition signatures calling on the government not to break up the health service and hand it to private companies. The group were seen as instrumental in holding up the sale of UK forests earlier this year, and could be a key player in stopping the bill from passing through Parliament. The petitions will be handed to MPs and members of the Health Bill scrutiny committee, with a visit already having taken place to John Pugh MP in Southport.
Did the pressure stop there?
Not for Lansley. The crises for Lansley and co. continued on Sunday as revelations were made that the Department of Health have been “burying good news” as they sat on reports showing unprecedented satisfaction in the NHS. To sour the claims that the health service is in dire need of repair yet further, surveys conducted by the polling organisation IpsosMORI were revealed to show that more members of the public than ever believe the NHS is doing a good job. The department have held the information quietly for 6 months, while alleging that is failing its patients and in dire need of change.
Then came caution from the ranks of Lansley’s own party colleagues, when Dr Sarah Wollaston MP publicly lambasted the government’s NHS plans publicly in the Sunday Telegraph. Dr Wallaston described the Health Bill as a “trojan horse” of reorganisation, and warned that Cameron had better employ the changes to the bill he has tacitly suggested, if the reforms are to regain public and professional confidence.
In other news
Tom Clark at The Guardian pondered whether Cameron himself was aware of the quiet attack on the NHS being planned by Lansley in opposition.
And lastly, news it may not be, but interesting perhaps – betting punters are being invited to decide whether the NHS split is the beginning of the end for the coalition government. Paul Krishnamurty of BetFair sees a dilemma for Cameron between ignoring the complaints of the LibDems on the reforms and ultimately embarassing Clegg enough to see him ousted and replaced by a leader less supportive of the coalition, or undermine his own Health Secretary and alienate backbench Tory MPs and the “party faithful”. Either way, there seems little bliss this week in the halls of ConDem government.