I thank the Secretary of State for Health for a copy of his statement shortly before he made it this afternoon. So Mr Speaker, in the middle of confusion, chaos and incompetence, the Prime Minister has pushed the Health Secretary out of the bunker to try and tell people what exactly and what on earth they are doing with the NHS. Why is the Health Secretary here and not the Prime Minister? After all, we have been told that the Prime Minister has taken charge and it was he who made his most personal pledge to protect the NHS and to stop top-down reorganisations that have got in the way of patient care. It is the Prime Minister who is now breaking his promises on the NHS.
Will the Health Secretary tell us why the Tories did not tell people before the election about the biggest reorganisation in NHS history? Why did they not tell the Lib Dems about the reorganisation before the coalition agreement was signed? Whatever the Government say or do now, there is no mandate—either from the election or the coalition agreement—for this reckless and ideological upheaval in the health service. In truth, the Health Secretary is here only because there is a growing crisis of confidence over the far-reaching changes that the Government are making to the NHS.
There is confusion at the heart of Government, with briefings and counter-briefings on all sides, and patients starting to see the NHS go backwards again under the Tories—with waiting times rising, front-line nursing staff cut and services cut back. Yet the Health Secretary has done nothing to restore public confidence in the Government’s handling of the NHS and nothing to convince people to back the Tories’ reorganisation plans. Everything he said today the Government were told about in the consultation—and they ignored it. Everything he said today the Government were told in Committee—and they rejected it.
This is not just a problem with the pace of change; simply doing the wrong thing more slowly is not the answer. It is not just a problem with presentation. In fact, the more people see the plans, the more concerned they become about them. That is why there is growing criticism of the Tories’ plans for the NHS—from doctors, nurses, patients’ groups, NHS experts, the Health Select Committee, the Lib Dems and peers of all parties in the House of Lords. I have to hand it to the Health Secretary: it takes a special talent to unite opposition from Norman Tebbit and MC NxtGen. That is why Labour has been saying that the reorganisation requires a root-and-branch rethink and that the legislation requires radical surgery.
There are fundamental flaws in what the Government are doing, not just in what they are saying. The test is whether the Prime Minister will now deal with these fundamental flaws. Will he radically safeguard commissioning to draw on the full range of NHS expertise, to prevent conflicts of interests, bonus payments to GPs and to guarantee that important decisions are taken in public not in private? Will he radically strengthen local accountability to the public and to patients? Will he delete the one third of the Bill that breaks up the NHS and makes it into a full-blown market ruled by the forces of market regulation and EU competition law? Will this be just a public relations exercise or will real changes be made in the NHS plans—or has the Prime Minister not yet told the Health Secretary? This is no way to run a Bill; this is no way to run a Government; this is no way to run the NHS.