Shirley Williams: how to sort out the NHS Bill mess

Earlier today I blogged about the odd and dangerous political situation the Liberal Democrats risk being left in – more in favour of the NHS Bill than large parts of the Conservative Party:

Arguing that you are the smaller party in a coalition and have achieved some important changes to a piece of legislation that has come from another party’s Secretary of State is one thing. But then ending up being keener on seeing the Bill go through than much of the Secretary of State’s own party? That’s skirting with political disaster.

Shortly afterwards (though I am sure not as a result!), Shirley Williams took to The Guardian website to offer an escape route, both for the substantive policy issues and the politics of it:

I do not favour a complete abandonment of the bill, given the changes already made and the further changes that many peers, not least crossbenchers, are pressing for and hope to get. But these further changes are essential.

The way out of this mess is not hard to find. What is needed is willingness by the government, including the prime minister, to reach a compromise on the most contentious issues. These relate to competition, co-operation among providers (the two can conflict) and the need to ensure that in decisions where providers and commissioners may have conflicting interests, the interests of patients must have priority over profit.

What that would mean for the bill would be dropping the chapter on competition, and retaining Monitor as the regulator of prices and of the foundation trusts. It would also mean pressing ahead with decentralisation, and the involvement of the public and the local authorities through the new health and wellbeing boards…

Dropping the most contentious part of the bill, implementing quickly the parts that are agreed and giving priority to meeting the required efficiency savings would restore staff morale. Building on the all-party constitutional agreement reached in the Lords would do more: it would give the NHS the stability and confidence it so desperately needs.

You can read Shirley Williams’s article on the NHS Bill in full here.

UPDATE: Shirley Williams subsequently decided to push for further changes to Part 3 of the NHS Bill rather than its complete abandonment.

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