Judith Jolly writes … Lib Dems are leading the battle over the regulations for the Health and Social Care Act

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 has been a Liberal Democrat peer since 2011, and previously served as Health Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords from 2017 to 2020.

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  • Liberal Eye 5th Mar '13 - 6:39pm

    It’s great to hear that Lib Dems have long been involved in the fight against this backdoor attempt to privatise chunks of the NHS and introduce price-based decisions to the near exclusion of other factors despite unambiguous assurances to the contrary. Many MPs probably relied on those assurances when they originally supported the Bill.

    But why did this only happen after organisations like 38 Degrees took up the cause? I thought the Lib Dems were supposed to be a campaigning party. Had this been strongly and publically opposed it could only have benefitted our standing with voters (apart, of course, for the minority of Conservatives who think that selling off the NHS is a good idea).

    It’s a relief to hear via Mary Reid that the regulations have just been withdrawn. But is this merely a tactical withdrawal in order to come back with a new plan later when the fuss has died down? This government is so 100% committed to market fundamentalism that I fear it may be.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 8:17pm

    Labour looks to be right “Coalition policy on competition in the NHS is in … chaos”.

    LibDems are IN government, not outside it, so we should have been [allowed to be?] involved from the start in the actual drafting process, not just at the end.

    I hope that we get things right over the next few weeks, in time, and that we take our full share of credit and responsibility for the regulations that finally emerge.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Mar '13 - 10:05am

    Thanks Judith for your honest comments about what has been going on. I think it shows the difficulty we are in as a small party in government. Inevitably the Conservatives will do their best to push their belief in market competition so that private profit-making companies can flourish at the risk of resources for patients. Those who did not agree with the large numbers in our party who were against the whole business of top-down change to the NHS may now see where it has taken us.
    It is good to know that some of our people are making efforts to curb the conservatives and similarly to remind us that Labour too got it wrong. What worries me is that we are not getting across enough to the public that we do not agree with ‘conservative’ elements of coalition decisions, that we are more radical and on the side of ordinary people than Labour were, and our MPs do not do enough to rebel.

  • Yellow Bill 6th Mar '13 - 2:59pm

    It is indeed great news that the coalition government has been forced to rethink section 75, but only (apparently) after 600,000 people signed the 38 Degrees petition.

    Norman Lamb was the minister answering to parliament over this, and said, “the regulations must be fully in line with the assurances given to this house during the passage of the health and social care act,”. My question is – if he was the minister in charge of drafting the regulations, why didn’t he, a Liberal Democrat, ensure it was written so that those assurances were enacted upon?

  • I do wonder by what process the original section 75 was drafted and by whom precisely (as well as under what outside pressure).

    Having a kind of audit trail for the framing of this kind of secondary legislation would be highly illuminating, which is precisely why it will never happen. To an outsider, it seems like someone with their own agenda managed to sneak past a draft of the rules which were a complete rewriting of the purported intention of the legislation as debated in parliament.

    The fact that the Lib Dems are actually trying to right some of the wrongs introduced by Labour in this area should be a badge of pride. “Oh, those dreadful Lib Dems letting the Tories privatise our lovely NHS” is, after tuition fees, the second most popular attack on the Lib Dems by the left. If we can prove them wrong and nail this into place, we will have achieved a major triumph.

    The only problem then is to actually communicate it to people on the doorstep and not let it be turned against us or ignored like all the other things we have done in government.

  • David Wilkinson 7th Mar '13 - 6:29am

    Best of luck to the Lib Dem peers, however out glorious leader and his sheep like MP’s will do what the Tories want and change it it all again

  • It’s all very well using the “naivete”, or “we didn’t know what was going to be written in” argument, RC, but it was pretty obvious at the time what was about to happen, and you will remember that campaigning groups telling us all, that the only way to deal with this issue was by scrapping the whole bill, as it was then. Our party still bears a heavy responsibility for allowing it through in the first place, and no amount of “Labour were doing similar” actually excuses us from doing just that. If we were genuinely on the side of a “New Politics” we would have been voting against both the Tories and Labour with their privatisation agenda. In fact, a more robust anti-privatisation approach from us (instead of the current neoliberal-lite, and in some cases not so lite) might add some steel to Miliband’s timid move away from such neoliberalism.

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