Saturday, March 10, 2012

Let's unite behind Shirley Williams' NHS motion #ldconf

I adore Shirley Williams, always have, always will. She's one of my political heroines. The way she has fought for women's rights and helped emerging democracies to develop shows a truly liberal and compassionate spirit. So that's my declaration of interest out of the way. But I'm not alone. I'd say most of us in Gateshead this weekend feel the same way.

The future of the NHS is not something that you can pin to personalities. That's why I was not best chuffed when Nick Clegg said this afternoon that you were either on Shirley's side or Andy Burnham's. We are and always will be on the side of the patient. As a party our vision is for people centred public services, flexible enough to give each individual as close a fit to what is best for them as we can manage.

Nick was, however clumsily, alluding to Labour's shabby record on the NHS. He spoke about how the Coalition has put an end to the quarter of a billion quid of sweetheart deals Labour had done with the private sector. Labour didn't tackle the problems that there are within the NHS, where elderly people are often caught between an NHS and a local Council, neither of whom will take responsibility for giving them the care they need. They get called names, bed blockers, when in reality they are the victims of a system that fails them when they need it.

I know of cases where friends have been let down by failures of diagnosis and when those errors happen, the NHS is very slow to accept responsibility and in fact can turn pretty hostile in its defensiveness.

I have to say that by far the majority of health professionals I know are amazing. The nurse who comforts a patient Norovirus knowing that her presence in the room is a virtual certainty that she'll be suffering herself within hours. The physio whose patient hours of expert help give Stroke victims their lives back but those individual efforts can be compromised by the way the service is organised.

There needs to be reform and in some areas a fairly major cultural shift.

I remain far from convinced that the Health and Social Care Bill will deal efffectively with all the challenes and shortcomings within the NHS. It will not, however, mean a privatisation. The NHS will be sticking to its founding principles of being free at the point of need. I am concerned about the cost of the change and worry that the removal of tiers of management will not save money for patient care. I suspect a lucrative market in consultancy services to GP consortia will develop.

There has been a whole load of scaremongering about the effects of the Bill. I don't have an ideological opposition to private companies providing some services, and I certainly don't object to voluntary sector specialists being involved if they can provide a more tailored service.

I've been talking to lots of people about this around the Conferene and even some of those who can be relied upon to be very pro the Coalition have worries about it. This Bill is way out of our comfort zone, and rightly so. It has, however, been substantially changed because of the work that our peers, led by Shirley Wiliams, have done.

Today Conference representatives chose to debate the motion that's become known as the Shirley Williams motion over the motion calling for the Bill to be dropped. How good is it that our party allows ordinary members the freedom to make these sorts of choices, by the way?

The proposers of that motion have to be very sensitive to the fact that more representatives gave the drop the bill motion their first preference. I would suggest that their tone should be respectful, understanding and persuasive.

Let's look at the options before Conference tomorrow. On one hand there's the emergency notion from the Lords team and others which says that the peers will only support the bill if the required changes are made in terms of the Competition Commission and Foundation Trusts. Or we hae the status quo which means that they'll be whipped to support it as is, without these changes. That's the reality of the situation.

Conference effectively made its choice on how it wanted to handle this today, albeit by the narrowest of margins, by choosing not to debate the withdrawal option.

The way I see it is that the Protecting the NHS motion is the better of the two options available. Voting against it will potentilly deprive a bill that will inevitably pass of some vital changes. It's not a choice I think many people would make with huge amounts of enthusiasm, but it's necessary.

4 comments:

David Colquhoun said...

Shirley Williams was a hero for me too, for most of my life.

I fear that this time she has made a bad mistake. The amended bill will still legalise cherrypicking of services, commercialisation, user charges, removal of services and people. See http://allysonpollock.co.uk/ for all the details.

Today's twitter storm of indignation was mostly from people who had supported Lib Dems at the last election (in my case since 2001). I don't think the conference delegates have realised the passionate devotion of many people to the NHS.

Anyone who votes for the Williams fudge can surely expect to lose their seat. This is a matter far more important than party politics. Please do your homework and vote against the Williams version tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

It is game over for the Liberal Democrats, I truly cannot envision the party retaining double figures in terms of parliamentary seats come 2015. Apparently you have no idea of the contempt in which you are now held by the general public. Nick Clegg will lose his seat, unless he joins the Tories. This latter I would predict. As a long-time fan of Charles Kennedy, I find this horribly tragic. Activists seem to be willfully blind to public perception of the party's broken promises and lack of mandate. Nick Clegg has no credibility and has undermined democracy. The situation vis-a-vis the NHS Bill was simple. It had to be dropped, even if that meant a general election. There was no alternative because the Bill certainly means privatization. See Allyson Pollock's article in the BMJ, it is conclusive. Shirley Williams' tinkering makes no substantive difference to the fact that essential services are not mandated by the Bill and that commercial providers will therefore be able to charge for them. Having been instrumental in wrecking the Labour party, Williams will be remembered for consigning the Liberal Democrats to oblivion. There is still a Liberal Party, composed of real liberals as opposed to Tories!

Aaron Trevena said...

"How good is it that our party allows ordinary members the freedom to make these sorts of choices, by the way?"

They didn't allow ordinary party members to make the choice about the NHS Bill - they threw all their politicking tricks into avoiding allowing members the choice to demand dropping the NHS Bill - anonymous briefings to the press, adding a last minute motion and pushing that, using party leader Q&A to attack those supporting the original motion to drop the NHS bill. Yes that's democracy like westminster - but hardly something to be proud of.

"The proposers of that motion have to be very sensitive to the fact that more representatives gave the drop the bill motion their first preference. I would suggest that their tone should be respectful, understanding and persuasive."

It would be respectful if they acknowledged that the conditions demanded at the last conference haven't been met, and give the party membership an opportunity to say no to the NHS reform bill. Anything else shows a failure to understand the party membership and the problems with the bill.

"Let’s look at the options before Conference tomorrow. On one hand the emergency notion says that the peers will only support the bill if the required changes are made in terms of the Competition Commission and Foundation Trusts. Or we have the status quo which means that they’ll be whipped to support it as is, without these changes. That’s the reality of the situation."

No - that's a false dichtomy - you (and others) are trying to fool people into supporting a motion that deliberately surrenders the demands made at the autumn conference last year. If this motion is defeated it's because the party still opposes the nhs reform bill, as it always has done - only those in the westminster bubble and tribal (our party right or wrong) activisist support it.

It's dishonest and insulting to claim that conference defeating this motion would support the bill - we have a motion from the last conference that defines our position - if the new motion is defeated that should still stand and any attempt by party mandarins and spin doctors is deceitful and fraudulent abuse of the conference and our party's democratic proceses.

tris said...

Thank goodness this will not affect us. Some of my English friends are worried sick that they are heading for an American system where if you can't afford it, you get 5th rate treatment, or none. Every halfpenny taken in profit by these people who would make profit out of ill heath is a halfpenny that isn't spent on patients.

No one in the health service likes it.

It will bring Cameron down just like the Poll Tax brought down that evil witch.

I'm surprised Scottish delegates are allowed to, or feel that they have a right to vote on the English Health Service. But I note that a large number for Scottish Labour MPs voted for it, so the West Lothian question is alive and well.

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