Labour health policy descends into mess on first day of conference

At a Q&A session, Labour leader Ed Miliband said:

I think what would be not sensible is for us to come along and say, ‘well, Andrew Lansley, now Jeremy Hunt, they’re changing all the arrangements, have these new clinical commissioning groups and so on, and we’re just going to reverse it all back and spend another £3bn on another top-down bureaucratic organisation.

So Labour wouldn’t just reverse all the Health and Social Care Act changes? That would mean quietly forgetting some of the rhetoric about how the passage of the Act would kill the NHS, but it’s easy to see why Ed Miliband might think this a sensible line.

One problem though. His Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, wasn’t exactly saying the same thing today:

I’ll repeal the Bill. Full stop.

Fully repeal but not fully reverse? Hmm.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • Tony Dawson 29th Sep '12 - 9:07pm

    Who cares whether Labour will reverse the mess? It’s still a costly mess and its OUR mess.

  • Maybe Burnham meant he would repeal once he became leader 😉 He would have been a better choice, but then EdM wasn’t even the best leadership candidate in his own family.

  • There is no contradiction. Miliband was talking about NHS organisational structures, the Health act is about the legal and policy frameworks in which the NHS operates. These are completely different things. Clearly one can repeal the act without another wholesale re-organisation. In fact given the one bit of the health reforms that Labour supported was the principle of clinical commissioning it would be a bit odd if they wanted to abolish the new clinical commissioning groups. And more generally I should think that even though the vast majority of NHS professionals opposed the health act the very last thing they would want to do is embark on another re-organsiation in 2-3 years time.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Sep '12 - 8:20am

    @Andrew R:

    “even though the vast majority of NHS professionals opposed the health act the very last thing they would want to do is embark on another re-organsiation in 2-3 years time.”

    Unfortunately, once the £20 bn NHS savings programme has been keyed in, the government of the day may have no choice,

  • We really are our own worst enemies. The NHS Act was amended out of all recognition due to the sterling work of Lib Dems in government, especially our members in the House of Lords.

    Whilst it wasn’t an act that Lib Dems operating as a majority government would have produced, it is simply not as the Labour Party describe it, nor indeed my old friend Tony Dawson.

    It really is about time some of our members started to recognise that and stop continually criticising everything OUR government is doing and instead speak up for its very positive achievements.

    A party that runs itself down will deservedly lose the next election, without the other parties doing anything.

  • Stuart Mitchell 30th Sep '12 - 10:58am

    Having heard Ed Miliband state unequivocally on Andrew Marr this morning that he would repeal the Health and Social Care Act, I was surprised to come on here and read this article. Back to journalism school for Oliver Wright methinks.

  • Looking a bit deeper this thread is a bit misleading (unusually for you Mark). Millibland went on to say:

    “‘But I think I can make you this promise that you’re looking for: We will put the right principles back at the heart of the NHS. The key thing about this Bill that I believe we’ve got to understand is that it actually says in the notes for the Bill – I’m sufficiently geekish that I read them before one Prime Minister’s Questions – it says in the Bill we should have the same model for the NHS as we had for the privatised utilities, gas and electricity companies, water companies and others. No, that is the wrong model for the NHS, that is the wrong values.’”

    And the spectator has this to add:

    “Labour spokespeople are insisting that the party remains committed to repealing the Act, but the point is that Ed has accepted that even if the legislation is scrapped by a Labour government, the new bill that is then brought to Parliament will contain Clinical Commissioning Groups rather than a return to Primary Care Trusts or some other new commissioning framework.

    This will be the case for many other reforms that the coalition government has brought in. Though Labour has bitterly opposed many large-scale changes, returning certain sectors such as health, education and housing to the state they were in before the 2010 election will cause more upheaval in practice than is worth it. ”

    Which seems a bit more of a sensible approach. I guess there were loads of structural changes Labour put in during their 13 years which both the Tories and Lib Dems opposed but which they haven’t re-set, not least Tuition fees 😉

  • @Dave Page
    I’m not sure we will really see the effects of the competition etc for quite some time. If you look back on my comments regarding this shocking Bill it is not there where I believe the problems lie. There are still elements in the notes that accompany the Bill but which version he was referring to would require a bit more context then the quote I found.

    My point is not that Labour have the answers on the NHS, their record is no better than the coalition’s, but rather than the comments made are not contradictory. It is possible to repeal the Bill, or even amend sections of it beyond recognition, without forcing another wholesale change of structure. To imply otherwise opens the Lib Dems to criticism and questions as to why any Labour legislation / reorganisation they where critical of has been allowed to remain.

  • Stuart Mitchell 30th Sep '12 - 1:54pm

    There is no u-turn here. Labour have been saying consistently for months that they would repeal the Act. Milliband said it again on TV this morning. Do you have a quote from Milliband in which he states that he would not repeal the Act?

    This is a story of journalistic incompetence, not a political u-turn.

  • This is exactly what riles me about Miliband’s approach. It is all symbolic gestures but when you get to the substance of what they are talking about, there are no firm commitments that have any actual substance.

    Under Miliband, in other words, it is all about posturing hypocrisy.

  • @Dave Page @RC
    Whilst it may turn out that way, it would not have to be just symbolic. For example I would like to see the place of the Royal Colleges (Not the RCN but the Medical Royal Colleges) cemented in training, I would like to see the theoretical maximum of 49.9% private provision severely restricted, etc etc.

    None of these mean changing from the commissioning body system although in my opinion the make up of the board itself is still very wrong.

    None of this means Millibland is going to be right, or if he gains power do any good, but vast improvements could be achieved by repealing the Bill and keeping the structure.

  • @ Steve Way

    Surely what Miliband means is that some aspects of the bill need changing, but that he agrees with the substance of enough of the changes to keep them in place.

    Therefore, presenting it as “repealing the bill” is pure posturing and should be recognised as such.

    Like I said, Labour’s position is all about striking a public pose and as such is fundamentally dishonest.

  • and there are a lot of assumptions in all of this, a series of ‘ifs’, if they are able to recover sufficiently to have a chance at forming the next(or a future) govt, if the get a working majority, if they are part of a new coalition in which their pertner will allow such changes. Their posturing and opposition to everything thet the govt does is all about the adversarial way our parliament works, which favours and even causes the see-saw politics that everyone hates. So lets stop giving their aspirations oqygen, Labour will NOT form the next Govt, at best they may be a part of a future coalition.
    They just might do themselves some good if they were to come out with some new policy.. their policy on the banks is just a re-launch of what Vince has been pushing for ages, and what the coalition are about to introduce, so what has Labour got that is different?

  • Stuart Mitchell 30th Sep '12 - 4:02pm

    “Surely what Miliband means is that some aspects of the bill need changing, but that he agrees with the substance of enough of the changes to keep them in place.”

    Perhaps you should listen to what Ed actually says (e.g. watch this morning’s Andrew Marr show on iPlayer) instead of inventing things he hasn’t said. Ed is merely acknowledging that it will not be possible for him to undo every bit of damage as soon as he takes office. It’s a realistic and sensible approach – honesty rather than posturing.

  • @RC
    No Milliband is not saying he agrees with the structure, but that he feels that several billion to change it back would be a waste. This is exactly the same as the non story when Balls said he would not reverse all the cuts. Incoming Government do not generally reverse much of the previous governments changes even though they disagreed at the time. This is pragmatic and a reflection that they are starting from a different position from their predecessors.

    There is lots to attack Labour on without looking to an area which will be so easily given the straight bat.

  • @ Steve Way
    “No Milliband is not saying he agrees with the structure, but that he feels that several billion to change it back would be a waste.”

    So why should anyone vote Labour then if, whatever they say, they’re not actually going to change anything important?

  • Richard Harris 30th Sep '12 - 10:14pm

    “So why should anyone vote Labour then if, whatever they say, they’re not actually going to change anything important?”

    I Don’t know if you are a Lib Dem supporter, but if you are I find it more than a little ironic that you should make such a statement given Nick Clegg’s apology last week – a promise is only a statement of intent after all, eh?

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