The Health and Social Care Bill has long been criticised by doctors, nurses, many Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. To the list of those concerned about the impact of Andrew Lansley’s reforms can be added senior Tory figures including Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome blog, and several members of the Cabinet.
According Tim’s editorial this morning, following on from a Times article earlier in the week (£), Conservative Cabinet Ministers are sufficiently concerned over how the reforms were being handled to press for the contentious components to be dropped and for only those elements that retain cross-party agreement to be enacted.
The Independent and the Guardian are also reporting disquiet over the Bill at the highest level in the Tory party – the latter also reports that Lib Dems are seeking to secure debate over whether the Bill should be scrapped at Spring conference.
The central argument is that the complicated reforms currently before the House of Lords bear little or no relevance on the financial and demographic challenges that the NHS will face in coming years, and that many of the changes needed to meet those challenges can be put in place regardless of the Bill. Many Liberal Democrats with close knowledge of the NHS have long held this position, seeking to have the Bill scrapped unless significant amendments were secured. It now appears that senior Tories agree that only those elements of the Bill that all parties can agree on should be passed into law, the rest being ditched.
Officially the government remains committed to passing the Bill as it stands, substantial amendments from the House of Lords notwithstanding. Under the surface there are clearly very deep concerns over the political ramifications and those for the health service itself.
The pressure on the Health Secretary and Prime Minister to rethink their position is now undeniable – I would add just this much, that with so many changes to services already underway, they should withdraw the bulk of the Bill and allow the NHS to focus on delivering a first class service at a time of severe budgetary constraint as set out in the Coalition Agreement. There’s little doubt this would be a better outcome than pressing ahead with legislation that now virtually nobody thinks is needed.
* Prateek Buch is Director of the Social Liberal Forum and serves on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee