Lib Dems are scurrying to tweak the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill with last-minute amendments in the House of Lords before it comes back to the Commons after Easter.
Their aim is to head off an emergency motion, opposing the Bill outright, which rank-and-file Lib-Dems want debated at their party’s spring conference in Gateshead on the weekend of 10 March.
The Tories have spoiled the Lib-Dem leaders’ efforts by shrugging and saying that the amendments are “not significant”.
The latest opinion poll, published on 20 February, showed 52% saying that the Health and Social Care Bill should be dropped, and only 33% backing it.
So far, however, street mobilisation against the Bill has lagged behind broad public opinion, perhaps because activist energies have been channelled off into other issues like the public-sector pensions campaign.
Activity is beginning to pick up, with a string of protests in the two weeks or so following the Health Alarm protest at the “Winning Business in the New NHS” conference on 29 February (see back page).
Among the groups organising protests are the Labour Party (in the north west) and the Unite union (at Westminster). As yet, however, Labour Party effort is mostly limited to press releases and an e-petition, and other unions have not come in with Unite’s effort on 7 March.
The new Health Alarm mobilising committee aims to turn things round by:
• organising its own activities;
• helping and publicising other protests; and
• working with people in the unions and the Labour Party to demand that the official labour movement musters its whole weight for this campaign.
The Bill builds on “marketisation” initiated in the NHS by the Thatcher regime and continued (after an initial return to public service operation) by the Blair-Brown Labour administrations. If it is defeated, that will not be enough. Campaigners will have to follow up by pushing for the reversal of the large chunks of the Bill which have already been implemented by administrative decree without the Bill becoming law, for the full reconversion of the NHS to public-service operation, and for the restoration of cuts to NHS spending.
If the Bill goes through, however, that will be a drastic lurch towards the NHS operating not as a public service but as a “health market”, only with most of the purchasing power, for now, coming from Government funds channelled through “clinical commissioning groups” (service companies) run by groups of GP practices.
Each NHS unit will be driven to find the most “profitable” way to operate, rather than the best way for health. The path will be cleared for a further shift to a “social insurance” model, openly recommended by many Tories, in which health care is basically a market but patients can claim back the cost of treatments, or some of the cost of some treatments.
The move of the Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital, in Cambridgeshire, into private management, and the move by St George’s Hospital in Tooting, London, to spend £100,000 to hire a manager to tout for private patients, show the way the Bill points.
Solidarity calls on all our readers:
• to back the Health Alarm mobilising committee;
• to win support for it from their union branches, etc.;
• to back all the other protests across the country;
• and to work urgently to turn the mass public discontent on this issue into mass public mobilisation on the streets.