With yesterday’s holding announcement from Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley – yes, the health plans might be changed but no, there are no details as yet – the future of the health White Paper is very much up for grabs.
It’s not quite as simple as Liberal Democrats versus Conservatives, as although there are not many Conservatives who share the principled objections to parts of the plans from the Liberal Democrats, there are many who share concerns over the practical workings of the detail and fear the political impact.
In a smart move, which reinforces how the Social Liberal Forum is becoming one of the party’s key pressure groups, the SLF is hosting an online petition from the movers of the Sheffield Conference health amendment.
The petition calls for the NHS plans to be changed in order to:
a) ensure the Health Secretary has a duty to provide a fully comprehensive and free health service, with no gaps and no new charges
b) provide more local democratic accountability for the health service
c) curb the market obsession of the proposed reforms to prevent quality being relegated behind price and prevent the cherry-picking of profitable services by the private sector undermining and fragmenting existing provision
d) slow down the pace of change so that the NHS, facing its toughest settlement for decades, does not implode from the stress of another massive reorganisation
Former MP and one of the main campaigners on this issue, Evan Harris, has said to The Observer:
This list of amendments is the minimum needed to satisfy the requirements of Lib Dem policy as set out in the coalition agreement and the recent conference motion, and this will be an essential guide to Lib Dem MPs, the leadership of the party, and indeed the Conservatives of what needs to change.
The Liberal Democrats do not expect their MPs to vote down the bill, but will not accept our parliamentarians being whipped to vote against any of the necessary amendments needed to provide democratic accountability of GP-led commissioning, guarantee the comprehensive nature of the NHS and rein in the original plans for an NHS market.
A widely-supported petition is likely to make the prospect of whipping MPs to vote against a conference decision on a topic that wasn’t in the coalition agreement even more unlikely.