The House of Lords are to start discussing proposed changes to the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill on 8 February. The seriousness of this Bill cannot be understated. It threatens the very principles on which the National Health Service was founded by turning it into a business where our taxes will pay for private companies to provide our healthcare. Profit will come before patient care. These reforms are being pushed through at a time when the government is asking the NHS to make unprecedented cuts. Despite Government assertions to the contrary, deep concerns about the Bill are held by practitioners and patients from across the health service. They are also shared by many of the coalitions own supporters, including a number of MPs and Peers, who have criticised what Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary is trying to push through.
Now we are asking anyone who cares about our NHS to join us in a Save our NHS rally in Westminster Central Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament at 18:00 on 7 March. The rally has been organised by the All Together for the NHS Campaign and brings together a range of unions, professional bodies, patients and members of the public who are opposed to the Bill.
Some changes have been made to the Bill but not nearly enough. Among the proposals still in the Bill will be the extension of competition and markets within the NHS. The private sector will also be able to take over the organising and delivery of NHS services. Only this week we have seen a private company taking over an NHS hospital for the first time, as Circle moves in to the Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. This will be the future the NHS has to look forward to if the Bill stays in its current form.
NHS hospitals will now be able to get as much as 49% of their income from private patients. As I covered in an earlier blog for Touchstone, this will mean that NHS patients are pushed to the back of the queue in favour of private patients who can pay. There is no doubt that patient care will suffer while health inequalities and care postcode lotteries are likely to rise.
The cost of the re-organisation is estimated at £3 billion a year and is rising by £1 million a day. This is at a time when the NHS is already being asked to make huge cuts.
The Bill is back in the House of Lords on 8 February for a number of weeks before it returns to the House of Commons for MPs to debate again. The pressure on Andrew Lansley, has been growing in recent weeks with more professional bodies joining the calls to significantly amend or withdraw the bill altogether. The rally is intended to add to that pressure by demonstrating the broad coalition of opposition to bill.
Peers must listen to the concerns of the people that know the NHS best – the staff who work in it. Health workers fear the increased competition and the extension of markets will have a devastating impact on patient care, especially poorer people who will find themselves pushed to the back of ever-growing waiting lists.
We hope the rally on7 March will provide the opportunity for NHS workers and patients to send a loud message across Parliament Square to convince the House of Lords that this Bill would be a disaster for the NHS.