Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Emily closed the Parliamentary debate on the future of the NHS on Monday, calling the Tory -; Lib Dem government’s Health Bill “reckless, costly and ideologically driven”.
Emily said in Parliament:
“These reckless, costly and ideologically driven reforms are not doing well for the health service. If we allow competition to run rife within the NHS, it will fundamentally undermine its essence.
Instead of wasting time, energy and money on unnecessary top-down reorganisation, the Conservative party should have been building on Labour’s achievements. When we handed over the NHS to the Conservatives, we did so in trust – they should have built on our achievements.”
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, had been pushing through his Health Bill despite mounting criticism on all sides: from patient groups, professional bodies and health experts including the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association.
These groups have attacked the plans as risky, too costly, a danger to the commissioning of key health services, and a distraction from the need to find efficiencies. Emily and the Labour Health Bill Team raised these concerns on the Health Bill Committee -; proposing over 300 amendments to the legislation. But the Tories and Lib Dems voted together to block any changes to the reforms.
Now, the government has announced a “pause” in the passage of the Bill, to listen to these concerns. But while the Prime Minister says he is listening, the Department of Health is telling the NHS not to slow down and ploughing ahead with Lansley’s reckless reforms.
Read the full transcript below:
“We have heard a number of interesting and important speeches from Members who have shown great expertise and have been serving the community and the public through their work on Select Committees, including the Health Committee. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), and from the hon. Members for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). Listening to their contributions, we have had a taste of the quality of debate that took place in the Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee. It is a shame that the Government did not give an inch as a result of those debates.
We have heard from the Liberal Democrat representatives, including the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), who talked about the Jekyll and Hyde drafting of the Bill, and the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who said that he is likely to vote against it on Third Reading. We heard a characteristically passionate, robust and articulate speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked a very simple question that I will repeat in the hope of getting an answer: what changes will be made as a result of the pause?
I hope that the Secretary of State was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) because he brought a dose of reality to
the debate by explaining the effect the reorganisation will have on his poor constituency and the redundancies it is suffering.
Andrew Bridgen: Will the hon. Lady not concede, perhaps even reluctantly, that the real reason her party is acting as a roadblock to essential NHS reform is that it pays far more attention to its union backers and paymasters than to NHS patients and taxpayers?
Emily Thornberry: The great strength of being in opposition, in many ways, is the opportunity it gives us to listen to interested groups of every type, including representatives of the work force, experts and the public, and to hear their concerns about the Bill. Those concerns translated into more than 300 amendments that we tabled in Committee and more than 100 votes. As I have said, the Government considered it wise not to give an inch. However, on the day after the Committee finished its considerations, the Government decided that there ought to be a pause so that they could think again. The very fact that they decided to think again tends to encourage us to think that we might have been right in the first place. What a shame it was that they did not listen to us earlier.
For the Health Secretary, it must seem a lifetime since the Prime Minister said about him:
“He is probably the Health Secretary in the last 20 years who has the greatest understanding and greatest passion for the NHS.”
His Deputy Prime Minister stated in the foreword to the NHS White Paper that the reforms were
“rooted in the coalition’s core beliefs”.
Patient groups, professional bodies and health experts gave the underlying principles of the White Paper a cautious welcome, but I ought to explain to the Secretary of State that there is a difference between giving a cautious welcome to the underlying principles of a White Paper or Bill and reading the Bill and realising that it will not deliver on those underlying core principles. That is why there has been an increasing chorus of opposition. Our difficulty is that, although there were more than 6,000 responses to the White Paper, those concerns were largely ignored. When the Bill was published, those concerns increased to alarm and the criticism became less diplomatic, less polite and more forthright, and yet the Secretary of State continues not to listen. More people began to join the Opposition’s side of the argument. Although at the beginning the Secretary of State might have felt encouraged that he had many people in his “liberate the NHS” team, as more people realised just what the Bill was about, more and more of them decided that they had been on the wrong side of the argument and that the Bill was wrong and so crossed the room.
I pray in aid the comments made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who talked about throwing a hand grenade into the NHS, and those of the Royal College of Nursing, which passed a vote of no confidence in the Secretary of State, with 98% of the vote. Its general secretary said that the Bill
“could well turn out to be the biggest disaster in the history of our public services”.
The British Medical Association called for
“a halt to the proposed top-down reorganisation of the NHS”.
When I listened recently to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), I was reminded of Luke 15.7 -there shall be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over 99 just persons who do not need to repent. The number of people who are moving over to our side of the argument are becoming a flock. They say they realise that the Bill is not what they had first thought it was, that it needs to be fundamentally changed, and that if it is not fundamentally changed it needs to be scrapped.
Lord Owen has said:
“The coalition unexpectedly and inexplicably forged ahead with legislation for NHS reforms of staggering ineptitude.”
Lord Tebbit, who I believe is the Secretary of State’s former boss, has said:
“What worries me about the reforms, however, is the difficulty of organising fair competition between the state-owned hospitals and those in the private sector.”
I could go on. Michael Portillo has said of the Tories:
“They didn’t believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do because people are so wedded to the National Health Service.”
The whole of the Liberal Democrats have also crossed the room. Evan Harris has talked about the Bill being “disastrous”. Although I heard the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) say encouragingly that the Bill would give
“a holistic basis-a structure for the health service, going forward.”,
the Health Committee’s report has not been so enthusiastic, if indeed what he said today could be characterised as enthusiastic. Lady Williams has said that the Bill is “completely misconceived”, and the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has said that it needs “fundamental change”.
The Health Secretary must be feeling increasing lonely. Perhaps the most deadly time was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated:
“I want changes too, and so does David Cameron”.
I appreciate that the Health Secretary has the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) on his side, along with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I respectfully suggest to the Health Secretary that he holds very tightly to the hand of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow). It must seem a very long time ago that the Prime Minister said:
“I have been involved in designing these changes way back into opposition with Andrew Lansley. I take absolute responsibility with him for all the changes we are making.”
We will see just how long it is that the Prime Minister stands shoulder to shoulder with his Secretary of State.
There has been great excitement in SW1 bubble land on what effects the NHS reforms will have on the coalition and what the Lib Dems will do next, but the fundamental point is that it really does not matter what happens in SW1; what matters is what happens to our national health service. The Bill is a threat to our national health service. Leaving aside the political shenanigans and the saving of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Liberal Democrats’ soul, what is important is what happens to our national health service. We should be looking at the fundamental principles in relation to that. Everything else is just words, words, words. We are told that we must not rush GPs into consortia, but the
majority of them have already been rushed into consortia and their PCTs are being abolished. If that is the extent of the fundamental reforms that the Liberal Democrats want, that would be very disappointing.
We in the Opposition have five tests: delete part 3 of the Bill; keep waiting time guarantees; ensure that consortia are not too small, involve wider expertise and require openness and accountability; ban GP bonuses, stop conflicts of interest and do not allow commissioning jobs to be done by the private sector; and keep a cap on the number of private beds. Let us do that, which would be a fundamental change to the Bill. Most importantly, let us delete part 3.
Instead of wasting time, energy and money on unnecessary top-down reorganisation, the Conservative party should have been building on Labour’s achievements. When we handed over the NHS to the Conservatives, we did so in trust. They should have built on our achievements. I am not saying that the NHS was perfect, but it was much better than it was when it was handed to us. These reckless, costly and ideologically driven reforms are not doing well for the health service. As the hon. Member for Totnes has said, while competition has a role, it is not an end in itself. If we allow competition to run rife within the NHS, it will fundamentally undermine its essence, which is that it is built on a culture of collaboration and co-operation. It is an expression of our fundamental commitment to equality.