One year ago my colleagues and I sat in a room in Gateshead explaining in detail to party members what we had done to ensure that the Health and Social Care Act included key Liberal Democrat policies and principles. We explained our efforts to reinstate the Secretary of State’s responsibility for ensuring that there is a comprehensive NHS. We stated that we would end Labour’s policy of crude competition on the basis of price, not quality, which had led to the private sector being paid £250m for work which was never done.
Above all, we stated that competition should be used only when there is a clear case that it will improve patient care and that CCGs should not have to put services out to tender if to do so would fragment care. Led by Tim Clement Jones and Shirley we fought ferociously to have the Bill amended and to obtain from the minister statements at the despatch box, which carry legal weight, to minimise the use of competition.
Today, on the eve of Spring conference, Liberal Democrats are leading the battle over secondary legislation. The government produced regulations under Section 75 (the bit which deals with competition and procurement) which do not reflect the assurances we were given.
For weeks, long before lobby groups and Labour woke up to the problem, we have been pressing the government to withdraw these inadequate regulations. Unlike Labour, we don’t think it is acceptable to go back to the law as passed in 2006, under which hospitals like Hitchingbrooke have been turned over to private equity firms. So we have been drafting new regulations which accurately reflect what was agreed by parliament last year.
Last year Liberal Democrats fought hard to protect the NHS from privatisation, whilst giving it sufficient flexibility to remain sustainable. The government have yet to concede, but we will not stop until they do.
* Baroness Judith Jolly is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Health and Social Care.