Save the NHS: The Battle is Not Over, Despite the Lords’ Capitulation on the Privatisation Bill’s Second Reading

12.10.11

When I think back to the already forgotten scandal of how David Cameron cosied up to Rupert Murdoch, seeking to allow him an unacceptable media monopoly via the planned BSkyB buyout, and when I now hear about Liam Fox’s dirty dealings with his buddy Adam Werritty, pretending to be an official representative of Her Majesty’s Government in MoD-related meetings around the world, I can only reflect on how the same kind of dodgy meetings and corrupt business deals have been incessantly taking place regarding the Tory-led coalition government’s planned privatisation of the NHS, with consultants like McKinsey and KPMG, and how the sordid realities of political life mean that the government cannot be trusted when it promises that it is trying to save the NHS rather than destroy it.

The Tory-led coalition and its deeply untrustworthy ministers — up to and including the PM — are not the only politicians compromised by their business dealings, because the Labour government was, essentially, no different. But although, in a general sense, almost the entire political establishment is thoroughly discredited through the knowledge that money talks more than principles do, and that we the people (except the richest ten percent) are irrelevant to politicians’ plans (except every four or five years when they want us to vote for them), I find it difficult to sit idly by while the government pushes ahead with its monstrous plans to destroy the NHS in England as a universal healthcare provider.

The death of the NHS may not be imminent — and the planned privatisation certainly only builds on what the Labour government already set in motion — but the Tories’ plans will massively accelerate its demise, leading to a more costly, more fragmented service that will exclude more and more people and will untimately, I believe, be damaged and demoralised to such an extent that it will become a privatised system that, like the US system, is an insurance-based racket that fails to care for everyone and plunges many of its users into lifelong poverty as they pay off extortionate bills.

Today, in the House of Lords, the government survived two challenges to the passage of its much-criticised Health and Social Care Bill, which, like Frankenstein’s Monster, is now a mangled version of health minister Andrew Lansley’s original proposals, with over a thousand amendments made as a result of sweeping criticisms made by Liberal Democrats and the medical profession.

Those who are fundamentally opposed to the BIll — including a majority of those in the medical profession, like the 400 senior doctors and public health experts, who, last week, called on the Lords to throw out the bill, saying that it would do “irreparable harm to the NHS, to individual patients and to society as a whole” — had hoped that an amendment tabled by Lords Owen and Hennessey would put the brakes on the bill, forcing key passages to be discussed by a committee.

In the end, however, neither the Owen-Hennessey amendment, nor a proposal by Lord Rea to block the entire bill, was able to draw a majority of the Lords’ votes, and the bill passed its second reading. The motion by Lord Rea (a Labour peer and a former GP) was defeated by 354 votes to 220, despite a stirring speech in which, urging peers to block the Bill, Lord Rea said:

I have had a tumultuous call from the country not simply to amend the Bill but to reject it in its entirety. I think the Bill is virtually unamendable, certainly in the timetable we have been offered or even if it were to be extended, or Lord Owen’s amendment were to be accepted. Whole swathes of the most senior members of my profession want the Bill sent back to the drawing board, so the National Health Service can get back to work without the sword of Damocles hanging over it.

Later in the afternoon, the Owen-Hennessey amendment was also defeated, by 330 votes to 262. This was a great disappointment, as, despite the hyperbole touted by health minister Lord Howe, who accepted that the House “must have proper time to examine the bill,” but claimed that “the proposal put forward by Lord Owen could result in delay, which could well prove fatal to it,” Lords Owen and Hennessey had raised hugely important questions about the serious constitutional implications of the bill — and, in particular, fears that it will “remove the duty of the secretary of state to provide or secure the provision of health services which has been a common and critical feature of all previous NHS legislation since 1946.″

In response, Lord Howe, as the Guardian put it, “attempted repeatedly to reassure peers that the duty of the health secretary to remain accountable for a comprehensive NHS will not be threatened by the bill, and said he would make ‘any necessary amendment’ to the bill to ensure this was enshrined in statute,” but Lord Howe did not genuinely explain how or why he or his colleagues should be trusted.

The Guardian also provided a breakdown of how the Lords had voted on the Owen-Hennessey amendment, noting that:

Six bishops voted for the amendment, 46 crossbenchers, and 198 Labour peers, 10 others, plus two Lib Dems: Lady Nicholson and Lady Tonge. No Tories voted for the amendment, and Lady Williams, who has been a leading Lib Dem opponent of the bill, appears not to have voted.

193 Tories voted against the Owen amendment, plus 51 crossbenchers, 80 Lib Dems, and six others. No Labour peers voted against.

This is not the end. The bill will now go to the committee stage, report stage and a third reading in the Lords, and will then return to the House of Commons, and, as Randeep Ramesh, the Guardian‘s social affairs editor, noted this afternoon:

That the bill has not been paused to examine its constitutional ramifications does not mean that peers will not have time to examine the bill; the Lords will expect the government to fill in the gaps in policy in the coming weeks before giving their assent. It is here where critics of the reforms hope significant amendments could still be made to the bill. The key areas remain the duty of the secretary of state to provide a comprehensive NHS; focusing the new regulator on the issue of integrating services rather than making them compete; and making the new GP commissioning groups more accountable and less ridden by conflicts of interests.

But it does mark a shift in the politics of the debate. The Lib Dem leadership, which has already signalled amendments will be accepted, have now dipped their hands in the blood of the NHS bill. It might be a stain that is hard to rub off.

The battle to save the NHS continues. Please sign the 38 Degrees petition (which nearly 450,000 people have now signed), and you can also badger individual Lords here. Also keep an eye out for actions by UK Uncut.

For further information, see: Battle for Britain: Resisting the Privatization of the NHS and the Loss of 100,000 Jobs, Save the NHS! Will the BMA Do the Right Thing, and Reject the Coalition Government’s Privatization Bill?, BMA Emergency Meeting Calls on Government to Drop NHS Privatization, Act Now to Save the NHS, as Government Advisor Claims Reforms Will Show “No Mercy” and Allow “Big Opportunity” for Profiteering, Save the NHS: Make No Mistake, the Government Plans to Privatise Our Precious Health Service, Save the NHS: As Lib Dems Vote to Support Tory Privatisation Plans, The Last Hope is the House of Lords and NHS Privatisation: Protest on Sunday, as 400 Doctors Accuse Government of Planning “Irreparable Harm,” and Lords Prepare Opposition.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m digging this Andy. Here is a post about ATOS and the Paralympics. A highpoint of cynicism that a British writer and FB friend found and posted. I’m passing it around
    http://planetpmc.blogspot.com/2011/10/threat-of-boycott-as-atos-healthcare.html

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Ah yes, ATOS and the Paralympics. How low can these people sink? I was sickened when I saw this story, so thanks for the link, and I like the comment from a Dr. B. Price: “ATOS are actually lying if they claim to carry out objective assessments. Either that or their comprehension of the term objective is at odds with normal research paradigms. The tests are subjective. Apart from a trivial look to see if a patient can hold up an arm, there is no medical assessment.”

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Indeed. It was no different in the Netherlands and, I hear, no different here too. In Holland doctors were once paid according to the number of rejections for benefits in some time frame. Some sort of “bonus.” Here the final decision on eligibility is in the hands of some sort of non-medical person employed by the state’s insurance system. They often neglect or tone down what the doctors conclude. I must say that the doctors here seem honest. If I’m in the mood (not now), I plan to write to the boycotters. A calm, well-reasoned account of what I know. The rest will be up to them.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. And when you say “here,” you’re referring to Sweden, yes?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    That’s right Andy, Sweden. I know people who are angry at this, since there’s no ethical way that a non-medical person, essentially a bureaucrat, can objectively neglect or modify a doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis. There might have been some cosmetic changes to this system, but I haven’t followed that. There was vague talk by the government about making “exceptions” and “deviations” from some criteria, but nothing concrete was proposed for legislation. I wouldn’t trust this.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger The granting of benefits is done at fixed time intervals, and in theory reflects the amount of work one can do. But the tests results and prognoses are not always adhered to, and the criteria for ability to work is very rigid. Same went for Holland when I was there, until 8 Jan, 08.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, George. Sorry, I was working on Part 27 of my 70-part series, “The Complete Guantanamo Files.” I try and do three stories a day — some take a few hours, some just half an hour, if I’m lucky.

    I can’t tell you how depressing it is that we keep having discussions about the privatisation of health services, AND removing benefits from disabled people, and that both processes are taking place in various European countries without there being an overarching conspiracy. I guess some people will see one, but I rather tend to think that the only explanation we need is that, everywhere, the only politicians we have — after socialist ideals were done away with — are enthusiasts for privatisation and rigged “free” markets, even though what we really need is to do away with the lot of them, and have genuine people in positions of leadership who actually give a damn about the people whose lives they have some responsibility for.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David J. Clarke wrote:

    Unbelievable that these bastards have risen like zombies and are enabled by the two-faced Lib Dem acolytes. Is there any wonder that ‘Liberal’ is increasingly being used to describe those who are complicit?

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    No wonder at all, David. Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative — they’re all discredited. For integrity, there’s Caroline Lucas (Green), a handful of Old Labour MPs, a handful of decent Tories, and handful of uncontaminated Lib Dems, but only enough for a decent dinner party, and certainly not enough for more than a small corner of Parliament. I thought at least the Lib Dem peers would escape the contagion, but no.

    I say, “Occupy Parliament” — the existing model is full of hollow, self-seeking simulcra of responsible human beings.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    David J. Clarke wrote:

    Too right. How to inspire the masses away from the necrotizing telly and endless banality that passes as entertainment?

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Lewis MacKenzie wrote:

    Welcome back to the 19th century, we’ve missed you.

    Best regards,

    Misery, Squalor & Poverty.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David and Lewis. Short of marching into people’s houses, or hacking into the airwaves, David, we have to hope that the people themselves wake up and see what’s going on. Jobs, an artificial boom and an overpriced housing market did a good job of shutting people up for 10 years under New Labour (actually, unleashing people’s inner greedy scumbag was more effective than anyone could have dreamed, as the housing market went into overdrive and people with mortgages talked about nothing else except what their house was worth).

    With the banking apocalypse — what were we supposed to call it? the “credit crunch”? — people had the opportunity to wake up, and as we’ve been seeing in Greece and Spain, and now on Wall Street and across the US, if you educate people, heap debt upon them, and then completely fail to have any jobs for them, they may start to turn, and occupy the streets and public places and refuse to go home and self-medicate in front of a cinema-sized TV.

    We started well here in the UK, with the student protests last year, but apart from UK Uncut’s fine work and the “riots” (which certainly showed discontent on a wide scale, even though they were dismissed as feral criminality), it’s all gone quiet, despite jobs being lost in their hundreds of thousands, and, in the south, a still hugely inflated housing market, dominated by a new breed of unregulated landlords. We need a housing crash, as the current situation, 17 months after the Etonians took over, hasn’t brought home to people the true horror of their bleak and deprived future.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Cut Wars McCabe wrote:

    That’s a BIG hope – we’ve ‘missionary’ work looming to educate folk…….

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Chris. Somehow I like that usurping of the notion of “missionary” work, especially in the States. Good to hear from you.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Andy, here is a very important letter from Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, Piccotts End, Hertfordshire, published yesterday in our local Gazette:

    Bring some peer pressure to bear and safeguard the NHS

    Remaining Facilities at Hemel Hempstead hospital are under threat from government plans to break up our NHS as a national public service.

    The two-party coalition promised “no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS” – but they are doing just that, and without the public being asked to vote for it or against it.

    The public wants doctors to be doctors and not accountants.

    The public also wants access to high-quality and care near to where they live which is more important than choice.

    This unwanted, wasteful and needless reorganisation comes as NHS resources are squeezed and are the wrong reforms at the wrong time.

    The governments wants to remove the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that provision of a national network of services meets the needs of people wherever they live.

    An economic regulator would enforce competition rather than sensible co-operation.

    So a group of management consultants could bid to provide existing services at Hemel Hempstead for a few quid less than now, then close them to fit in with other changes they plan.

    Labour peers in the House of Lords will fight to defeat or improve the changes but as the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have 80 more votes, we will need the support of cross-bench peers and any Liberal Democrats who still have conscience.

    A list of these can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/ then click on the ‘view all’ drop down (in red) to select Crossbenchers and then Lib Dem Peers.

    I urge everyone who wants our NHS to continue as a public service rather than a profit-making series of competitors to contact as many of these peers as possible.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I’ve just read the story that GKB [George Kenneth Berger] linked to his friend’s blog. What can I say, as a mother of child with special needs? I am horrified. It’s true, you fill their forms, provide them with addresses and tel. numbers of her numerous specialists and surgeons, they never made contact with them. We were so disappointed with their last decision. I celebrate a day when we don’t have to clean human excrement during 12 years of her life. They have no idea. Time to fight back.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Time to fight back indeed, Dejanka. Thanks for your thoughts.

  18. The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Eleven, October to December 2011 | Friction Facts says...

    [...] Strikers Risk Death, Psychologist Testifies that Solitary Confinement is Torture 13. UK politics: Save the NHS: The Battle is Not Over, Despite the Lords’ Capitulation on the Privatisation Bill’… 14. “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”: Andy Worthington Attends New Screening of [...]

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