Andrew Lansley

Standing up for the NHS

The Health and Social Care Bill is probably the biggest threat the NHS has faced since its conception.

Nye Bevan is a personal hero of mine. Aside from being a lifelong devoted socialist, and a staunch enemy of the Tories, he was the man who brought the NHS into existence in this country. In a very real sense, Bevan left the world a better place than he found it. Whenever I think of Bevan, one quote in particular springs to mind:

“The NHS will last for as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”

These are dark times for the NHS. The Health and Social Care Bill threatens the very fabric and purpose of the NHS, far beyond anything ever proposed by the Blair and Brown administrations. The expansion of the private sector to up to half of a hospital’s income will be the first major step to a two-tier health service, and the massive reorganisation at the same time as £20bn savings will cripple it.

But through all this, I have not lost heart. Why not? Because of the response of the British public. You see, those with the faith to fight for the NHS are alive and well across the country. Just look at the official e-petition calling on the government to drop the health bill: it hit the magic 100,000 signatures last week, and at present it’s standing at 160,394. It is the most popular petition on the site. All across the country, people are standing up to protect what Nigel Lawson once called the closest thing to a national British religion.

This includes me. Tomorrow, at 10am, Maidenhead Labour Party will be holding an NHS-themed campaign stall in the high street. Outside Wilkinsons, we will be handing out flyers and asking people to sign petitions. We’ll be campaigning on both national issues, and local health matters such as the already announced closure of Charles Ward.

If you’re in the area, come and see us. If not, you can still help. Every signature on that petition, ever letter to an MP, every word we say against the dismantling of the NHS is a step forward.


Or, as is becoming apparent, vice versa.

Does anyone remember that poster that the Conservatives plastered over billboards up and down the country in the lead up to the 2010 General Election? The one with that airbrushed picture of Cameron saying that he’d cut the deficit not the NHS? Or maybe you remember the part in the coalition agreement where the government promised to “stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS”?

Well, the first pledge has been broken; the NHS is being cut in real terms under the present government. And the second is being broken by the Health Bill currently going through parliament. Since it’s introduction, this bill has been one almighty headache for the government. There seems no end of problematic clauses within it, but the one which grabbed headlines first of all was the plan to allow “any willing provider” to bid for NHS contracts- essentially opening the NHS up to European competition law for the first time in the history of the health service.

This was diluted down to “any qualified provider”, after the Lib Dems found their backbone (only temporarily, and only after another slating by the media and pollsters). But the Bill is still dangerous. Between the plans to put hospitals in competition with each other, open the service up to privatisation, and turn your local GP into an administrator rather than a physician.

The NHS is, to my mind, the greatest achievement by any post-war government. It was introduced by Clement Attlee’s Labour government, over the staunch opposition of the Conservative Party of the day. It seems that nothing has changed. Despite Cameron’s attempts to “detoxify” his party, it has only been a superficial change. The Tories still can’t be trusted on the NHS.

So today I joined other Labour activists (including a contingent from Maidenhead CLP) and trade unionists in Reading town centre, to

Maidenhead CLP defending the NHS, in Reading town centre. Myself with (left to right) John Healey MP, Patrick McDonald and Nigel Smith

try and raise the profile of David Cameron and Andrew Lansley’s devastating plans to destroy this British institution. We handed out informative flyers, and gathered signatures on a petition. We were even joined by John Healey, the shadow health secretary.

This is a very real threat. I am, like most people, firmly of the opinion that health is a fundamental right. I believe that healthcare should be available to everyone, not just the rich. This legislation is the first step in a conservative (big and little c) plan to privatise off the NHS, and move towards a situation similar to that in the US- where doctors will look for your wallet before your pulse, and where the poor suffer a vastly inferior standard of care.

If you agree that the NHS must be protected, if you want to do something to stop this bill, then please sign this petition. Beyond that, the only suggestions I can make is to write to your local MP, and to never trust a Tory on the NHS.