I have spent my entire working life in the field of health and social care. For many years I worked for Age Concern and for all my time in the Lords I have been a member of the Health and Social Care team. I am, and always will be, a passionate supporter of an NHS which is free at the point of need and open to all regardless of their ability to pay.
Although the Health and Social Care Bill only came to the Lords this week I have been working on it for several months along with Liberal Democrat colleagues, including Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb and John Pugh, Shirley Williams and Dr Evan Harris. We have already achieved significant changes to the original legislation and will continue to press for more.
Having looked at the original legislation, the report of the Future Forum and the revised Bill which came from the Commons, I came to the view that the Bill contains a number of proposals, such as Health and Well Being Boards and transfer of Public Health to Local Authorities, which will reduce health inequalities. However, there are aspects of the Bill which require much more scrutiny. In my view, it will take a lot of hard work by members of the House of Lords, who have a wide range of experience and skills, to turn this into a secure legal foundation for the development of the NHS.
I managed to read the first 100 e-mails which I received on the subject of the Health and Social Care Bill (and I regret that as I do not have staff I cannot reply individually to them and the many others). Having done so, I am convinced that it is the duty of the House of Lords to be mindful of the real concerns expressed by many people as we proceed to think about this legislation in detail. That is why I voted to let the Bill go to Committee on the floor of the House and it is why I, along with colleagues, will continue to raise questions and issues with the Government.
Rumour has it that, having failed to command significant support from the Crossbenches, Labour are preparing to filibuster this Bill like they did on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The NHS is too important to be used like a political football and failure to give this Bill thorough and fair scrutiny would be condemned by the public, who have already shown an unprecedented level of interest in this legislation. I hope they will continue to follow the proceedings of the House closely and be alert to any signs of gamesmanship.