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Andy Burnham MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, speaking at the Emergency Debate on the NHS in the House of Commons this afternoon, said:
If David Cameron's Cabinet think they should celebrate the health bill becoming law, it just shows how out of touch they are.
On this of all days, in the Diamond Jubilee year, we should be celebrating what a much-valued social institution has done to bind our nation together throughout the 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign. Instead, we gather to dismantle it.
A health service judged by international experts to be one of, if not the, best health service in the world - about to be, inexplicably and unjustifiably, broken apart by an ideological Bill ending 63 years of NHS history.
People outside will struggle to understand how Members of this House could make such momentous decisions without having carefully considered all the facts and all the evidence. But the truth is, Members will be going through the lobbies tonight without knowing the full implications of what it means for the NHS in their constituencies. How do they begin to justify that to their constituents, patients who depend on the NHS and staff who devote their lives to it?
We have argued from the beginning that the Government’s decision to combine an unprecedented financial challenge in the NHS with the biggest-ever top-down reorganisation has exposed the NHS to greater risk. And the truth is we are beginning to see the effects of that.
In our constituencies, they have already dismantled the existing structures of the NHS before the new ones are in place – leading to a loss of grip just when it was most needed. So we are seeing A&E waits getting longer; staff shortages leading to ward and A&E closures; patients in our surgeries beginning to complain of treatments restricted or longer waits.
Added to that, we have heard from the health professions – GPs, nurses, midwives, physios – who, one by one, have made clear their considered professional judgement that, on the balance of risks, it was safer to abandon the Bill than to proceed with the upheaval of re-organisation.
The Information Commissioner thinks we should know. So does the Information Rights Tribunal, which brought forward it ruling so that it could influence our proceedings. And yet it looks like history will record that a meek Parliament said that it would rather not know, despite the Speaker giving us this one last chance to stand up for ourselves.
We will remind the Government of the truth – that they put politics before the NHS, and signed up to a reckless reorganisation without knowing all the facts.
It feels to me that this whole debate has shown the country the true colours of this Coalition. By self-proclamation, they were going to be the most open and transparent Government in history.
Less than two years into Government, they are left clinging to the most threadbare of reasons for defying the Freedom of Information Act and disrespecting a law they claim to support.
The Tribunal hasn’t given us its reasons, they say. Ministers will try to argue again that the public and Parliament’s right to know about the impact of their policy decisions is outweighed by the public interest in the preservation of a safe space for policy advice.
These were arguments considered by the Information Commissioner – and the Information Rights Tribunal – and they found the opposite to the case.
In an attempt to rescue the Bill last year, the PM made a number of claims for it. First, he said it was needed as the NHS “does not deliver the patient-centred, responsive care we all want to see.” He cited heart services and claimed someone in this country is twice as likely to die from a heart attack as someone in France. Mr Speaker that was before new research in January reported a 50% per cent fall in heart attack deaths in the last decade.
Then he said NHS cancer services were failing people compared to other countries. That was before new research in November 2011 the NHS in the last decade achieved the biggest drop in cancer deaths of any comparable health system in the last decade.
Thirdly, the PM and indeed all Ministers have been trotting out the same script for years that NHS productivity had declined in the last decade. That was before new research on NHS productivity from Professor Nick Black published in February’s Lancet. It showed that, far from falling, NHS productivity increased in the last decade at the same time as achieving record patient satisfaction.
One by one, the Government’s arguments have fallen apart. They have comprehensively lost this argument on health policy.
They have convinced nobody; and they are now running scared, resorting to their only remaining option of ramming this Bill through before they would be required in law to publish the real assessment of their policies.
Today we table a package of amendments to provide the necessary safeguards that the Liberal Democrats failed to secure. Safeguards on the huge potential for conflict of interests in the award of contracts under the Any Qualified Provider that won’t be addressed by a simple register; on a stronger local HealthWatch that is being watered down.
And on the PPI cap. Let me quote from a risk assessment the Government has published – the Revised Impact Assessment – which says: “there is a risk that private patients may be prioritised above NHS patients resulting in a growth in waiting times for NHS patients”.
The only hope I can give today to people worried about the future of the NHS is that this might be the end of the Bill but it’s just the beginning of our campaign. The NHS will find a way of working round these changes – it won’t deteriorate overnight – and we will be working to mitigate the worst effects of this Bill. And we will build a new coalition to restore the NHS working with people from any party.
This is later than the eleventh hour. Our only hope would be a change of heart from the Liberal Democrats. I applaud their grassroots members who had the courage to defy the Orange Book Leadership. But the truth is, from today, they will not only be remembered for tuition fees. They will be the Party that stole people’s votes in May 2010 to secure jobs for themselves and sell out the NHS. They could have stood up to the Prime Minister, and enforced the Coalition Agreement, but chose not to.
A Bill nobody voted for rammed through here tonight in the teeth of near-universal professional opposition and in defiance of a major legal ruling.
A Bill that no Member of this House can look their constituents in the eye and say they had a mandate to support.
And tonight they inflict it on the NHS – without knowing the potential damage it will do.
While on a day like today it’s hard for me to give any encouragement to people worried about what the Government is doing, I can at least say this: that we will repeal this Bill at the first opportunity and restore the N in NHS.
We have given this fight all we had.
All I can say is our fight will go on to protect and restore our Party’s finest achievement.