Opinion: Where was Nick Clegg’s summit on the NHS?

Much of the recent column space on Health issues has been filled with criticism or scepticism of the summit that David Cameron held in Downing Street, and more specifically Andrew Lansley’s Health & Social Care Bill.

The sceptics say that Cameron only invited ‘Yes people’ – people who would confirm his own world view of NHS reform, and who would be nice about Mr Lansley.

As usual, I ain’t bovvered about the Conservatives and what they do to attract media criticism. The more the better as far as I am concerned. What concerns me is what the Liberal Democrat leadership has been doing in order to be as well-informed as possible in respect of its positioning on the Bill?

We all know that the Party has been badly hit by the removal of Short money. Many on the inside of the party will tell you that it is strength in depth in Lib Dem policy-making capacity that has been hardest hit.

And many within our Parliamentary Party have become Government ministers, and have been taken up with their new portfolios: getting up to speed with how to best use the levers of power.

At the same time, there has been a loosening of communication channels between the leadership and the wider party in the country. So would this not have been the ideal time for the leadership to have been making a concerted effort to meet and discuss possibly the most politically important Bill of the parliament with some of those members of the party who are experts in the fields of Health and Social Care?

Would it not have been better on Tuesday evening for the parliamentary party to have been addressed by loyal Lib Dem activists who are currently working on, or with, the front line in Health and Social Care, rather than Paul Burstow – a minister with a long history of commitment to social care campaigning, but one whose career in Government is now tightly strapped to the survival of this Bill?

The reality is that there are only a very few members of the Parliamentary Party who are experts in professional practice within Health and Social care. And it’s important that they are able to admit it.

Over the past few days, along with other party colleagues who have real concerns about the Health & Social Care Bill as it stands, I have lobbied different MPs: MPs that I have campaigned for and who I respect. I was, frankly, appalled at some of the specious arguments that were given, trying to justify not voting for transparency and the release of the risk assessment on Wednesday afternoon.

We are a party, after all, that should be able to lay aside tribal politics and stand up for freedom of information (and the Information Commissioner) whenever the opportunity arises.

And we are optimists by nature. So it is in the context of Liberal optimism that I am determined to hope that the next few weeks will give the Parliamentary Party an opportunity to demonstrate that it has the will and the mettle to avoid a bunker mentality, and to develop the internal structures necessary to enable it to engage with expertise in the party on a range of important policy issues. Spring Conference is arriving just in time.

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

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7 Comments

  • Simon Hebditch 27th Feb '12 - 12:55pm

    The NHS Health and Social Care Bill is one of the most important pieces of draft legislation before Parliament and it is now crucial that the Lib Dem party leadership takes a firm stand on the Bill and its failings. It seems to me that the choice is between either supporting any Lords amendments which may be passed to eliminate Part 3 or a rejection of the Bill as a whole. If the amendments being put forward by Lib Dem peers are rejected in the Lords, the parliamentary party in the Commons should vote down the Bill as a whole. Equally, if the amendments are passed but the Tories move to reinstate the original formulation, Lib Dems, including those in government, should vote down the Bill.

  • “We are a party, after all, that should be able to lay aside tribal politics and stand up for freedom of information (and the Information Commissioner) whenever the opportunity arises.”

    I agree that the document should be published, but it’s not really a question of “standing up for the Information Commissioner.” It’s not as though his authority is being defied by the government. There is a right of appeal (for both parties) against his decisions. In this case the government has appealed in the usual way and that appeal will be decided next week.

  • Tony Dawson 27th Feb '12 - 1:45pm

    Well, we must ask what happened to all the Lib Dem feedback from the 2010 Liverpool conference sessions about the draft Bill (the scientific summary of which was: “it’s pretty much ‘pants’.” Then you might ask whether it would be worthwhile Lib Dems attending such a summit.

    Happily, Lib Dems seem to be making their decision on this important matter without a summit.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Feb '12 - 4:37pm

    Anyone who wants to know the future for the NHS should read Dr. Max Pemberton’s article on the NHS and social care bill in today’s Daily Telegraph.

    Thanks, Lib Dems.

  • James Jones 27th Feb '12 - 5:15pm

    Nick,

    Why do you want to remove part 3? Part 3 is what establishes a specialist regulator for provision of health services – whether they are from the public sector, charitable sector, social enterprises or traditional companies. It stops the Office of Fair Trading being the sole regulator of the market in healthcare which is the system set up by Labour in their 2006 legislation. It stops competition on price.

    It seems quite strange to call for the removal of a bit of legislation which actually moves the NHS closer to what Lib Dems!

    James

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