Last March, I spoke at the Sheffield Conference in support of the motion that led to radical changes in the Health and Social Care Bill. By the Summer, much of the Bill had been changed and I was able to write that the Bill was much improved.
I felt that we should be proud as Liberal Democrats for thwarting the initial plans.
My colleagues in the House of Lords have made more very important changes to the original plans. On Tuesday I told the House that, “I believe that that culmination of changes will enable us to bring about an improved NHS. I may be proved wrong. I freely accept that I may be proved wrong. But I believe that the changes that have been made are so far reaching that we can make the NHS better than it is today.”
I hope that party members concerned to see what we have achieved will read what my colleagues have said in the the debates in the Lords. We should be proud of our key role in safeguarding core principles of our NHS. I firmly believe that starting all over again with another year of debates and another year of uncertainty over the future of the NHS would damage those principles.
Arguments about competition have been at the heart of the changes that we have made to the Bill. In this week’s debates, I said that it was wrong to say that, “either we have a competitive market for the National Health Service or we have no competition at all.”
You can see my remarks on this subject on parliamentlive.tv
I said that, “We all know that there is a role for competition but the argument is about what the restraints on it should be, what it should be addressed to and whether it is then balanced by, for example, equally strong duties in relation to co-operation, integration and the bringing together of services.
“We all recognise that competition can make a significant contribution in innovation and bringing in new ideas. For example, we have only to look at the recent developments in the treatment of stroke victims and victims of heart conditions to see that there has often been an innovatory role for the private sector.
“However, many of us also believe, as I certainly do, that the National Health Service should continue to be primarily a public service, that it should be available free of charge and that it should be accessible to all.”
In response to Labour’s campaign on the bill, I also had to say that “I am thoroughly fed up with reading pieces on social network sites, such as Twitter, which have presented this debate in terms of how we voted on the last amendment and if we did not vote for it then we must be in favour of the marketisation of the NHS. That is simply absurd and it makes me very angry.
“It adds to what has become a silly debate, a fictional debate which has led a great many people to believe that what is being discussed here is not at all what is being discussed, but some other strange, nightmare battle between marketisers and public service supporters and no possible compromise can properly be reached between the two. I feel very strongly about that. I am fed up with reading about how I am actually a secret marketiser, when I know perfectly well that I am not.”
* Baroness Shirley Williams is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, a founder member of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats and author of several books including her autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves.