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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The national health service is among our most valued and loved institutions. Indeed, it is often described as the closest thing we have to a national religion. I am not sure that that was always intended to be complimentary, but I think it should be. People in this country believe in the NHS wholeheartedly, share in its values and the social solidarity it brings, and admire the doctors, nurses and staff who work in it.
It is because I share that belief that I am here. Over eight years, I have supported, challenged and defended the NHS. As a party, and now as a Government, we have pledged unwavering support for the NHS, both in principle, because we believe in the values of the NHS, and in a practical way because we are reforming the NHS to secure its future alongside the additional £12.5 billion of taxpayer funding over the next four years that we have pledged for the NHS in England.
In Wales, a Labour Government are cutting the budget for the NHS. The coalition Government’s commitment to the NHS will not waver. The Government and I, as Health Secretary, will always be accountable for promoting and securing the provision of a comprehensive health service that is free and based on need, not ability to pay.
What matters to patients is not only how the NHS works, but, more importantly, the improvements that the modernisations will energise—a stronger patient voice, clinical leadership, shared NHS and local government leadership in improving public health, and innovation and enterprise in clinical services. Everyone will benefit from the fruit that the Bill and the reforms bring. There will be improved survival rates, a personalised service tailored to the choices and needs of patients, better access to the right care at the right time, and meaningful information to support decisions. The Bill provides the constitution and structure that the NHS needs to work for the long term.
Patients know that it is their doctors and nurses—the people in whom they place their trust—who make the best decisions about their individual care. The Bill is about helping those people to become leaders. It is not about turning medical professionals into managers or administrators, but about turning the NHS from a top-down administrative pyramid with managers and administrators at its zenith into a clinically led service that is responsive to patients, with management support on tap, not on top. It is about putting real power into the hands of patients, ensuring that there truly is “no decision about me without me”. My only motivation is to safeguard and strengthen the NHS, and that is why I am convinced that the principles of this modernisation are necessary.
Of course, the Bill has been through a long passage. There have been questions and new ideas, and many concerns and issues have been raised. We have done throughout, and will continue to do, what all Governments should do—listen, reflect, then respond and improve. The scrutiny process to this point has been detailed and forensic. There were the original 6,000 responses to the White Paper consultation, many public and stakeholder meetings and 28 sittings in Committee, after which Derek Twigg acknowledged that “every inch” of the Bill had been scrutinised, but we were still none the less determined to listen, reflect and improve.
I wish to thank the NHS Future Forum, under Steve Field’s leadership, for its excellent and continuing work. I also thank more than 8,000 members of the public, health professionals and representatives of more than 250 stakeholder organisations who supported the Future Forum and the listening exercise and attended some 250 events across the country. That forum and those people represented the views of the professionals who will implement and deliver the changes, and we accepted all their core recommendations. We brought the Bill back to Committee—the first such Bill since 2003—and we have continued to listen and respond positively. The Bill is better and stronger as a result.
At the heart of the changes is support for clinical leadership, which has always been key in putting health professionals, and not only managers, at the heart of decision making in the NHS. That was why we strengthened the Bill to ensure that all relevant health professionals would be involved in the design and commissioning of services at every level and in the leadership of clinical commissioning groups. They will also be brought together through clinical networks on specific conditions and services, as they often are now, such as in the case of cancer networks. They will be brought together in broad geographic areas, through new clinical senates, to look across services and advise.
The Bill was strong in transparency and openness from the outset, and that now flows through every aspect of modernisation. Indeed, the Future Forum is taking forward another of our central principles of reform, which is to develop high-quality and integrated services. Properly integrated services are essential for the quality of individual care and for the most efficient operation of the NHS. That was why we proposed health and well-being boards, to bring together all the people who are crucial to improving health across an area and having a real impact on the causes of ill health. We can bear down on the inequalities in health that widened under the previous Government.
The Bill now makes our commitment to integration explicit. Clinical commissioning groups will have a duty to promote integrated health and social care based around the needs of their users, and we will encourage greater integration with social care by ensuring that CCG boundaries do not cross those of local authorities without a clear rationale.
The Bill has deserved the attention and passion that it has attracted, and which I am sure it will continue to attract. I thank all Members who have taken part in the scrutiny of it on Second Reading, in Committee, on recommittal and during the past two days. I especially thank my ministerial colleagues, who have steered the debates and led the preparation of and speaking on the Bill. I thank all colleagues throughout the House who have contributed, especially many of my colleagues who I know have given an enormous amount of time, energy and hard work to supporting the Bill. I also thank the Whips.
I thank the Officers of the House and, especially on this occasion, my departmental officials who have responded tirelessly not only to our requests for information and advice but to those of many hon. Members and thousands of people across the country and in stakeholder organisations.
The intensity of debate and the brightness of the spotlight shone upon the Bill have made it a better Bill than when it was first laid before the House. I believe that it will set the NHS in England on a path of excellence, with empowered patients, clinical leadership and a relentless focus on quality. Let us look at what we have already achieved as a Government: more investment in the NHS, higher quality despite increased demand, waiting times remaining low, MRSA at the lowest level ever, mixed-sex accommodation breaches plummeting, and thousands more people getting access to cancer drugs. The Bill will pave the way for even more progress towards the world-class NHS that patients want, which will be able to deliver results that are truly among the best in the world. I commend it to the House.
This Government and this Bill are giving health reform a bad name. The Bill is unwanted and unnecessary. It is reckless to force through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history at the same time as finances are tight and pressures on the health service are growing. The big quality and efficiency challenges that the NHS must meet, and the changes that the NHS must make for the future, will be made harder and not easier because of the Bill.
I thank my shadow ministerial team, who have done such a sterling job. I also thank my Back-Bench colleagues who served on not just one, but two Public Bill Committees, and all my Back-Bench colleagues, who have given such strong support to the Opposition in the House.
I should also pay tribute, if I may, to the stamina of the ministerial team, but I say this to them: we will not let up now, because in 13 years of Labour reform and investment, people saw huge improvements in the NHS, the lowest ever waiting times, and the highest ever patient satisfaction; but in this the first year of this Tory-Lib Dem Government, people have instead seen the NHS starting to go backwards. They have seen the Prime Minister breaking the very personal promise that he gave at the election to protect the NHS. As we heard at Prime Minister’s questions today, he and his team are in denial about the damage that his Government are doing to the NHS and the scale of criticism and opposition to it.
The Prime Minister’s pause to listen was supposed to have won back public support and confidence among NHS staff. He failed. It is true that changes have been made to the Bill, but they make the NHS plans more complex, more costly and more confused. Millions of pounds will be wasted on new bureaucracy when it could and should be spent on patient care.
As the House is asked to approve the Bill on Third Reading tonight, the essential elements of the Tory long-term plans to see the NHS broken up as a national public service, and set up as a full-scale market, are still in place. First, on the market, a new regulator will enforce competition law on the NHS for the first time, and it will have the power to fine hospitals 10% of their turnover for working together. The Office of Fair Trading will oversee mergers if a hospital’s turnover tops £70 million. There will be no cap on the number of private patients that are treated in our NHS hospitals as NHS patients wait longer. That means more legal challenges from competition lawyers, more privatisation and the closure of NHS services and hospitals. It means that much of the planning, collaboration and integration that is at the heart of the best of our NHS today will be very much harder, and perhaps illegal, in future.
Secondly, the Bill betrays a founding principle of the NHS. For 65 years, people have known that the Secretary of State and the Government whom they elect are responsible for the definition and provision of a comprehensive health service. The Bill passes that power to at least 250 local commissioning groups and stops the Secretary of State directing them as to the services that they must provide for patients. It makes the Government unaccountable for what health services are provided and unable to guarantee patients a universal service. It is a fundamental and founding principle that our NHS is a national service, equally there for all, whoever we are, wherever we live. This Bill takes the “national” out of the national health service.
In January on Second Reading, I said of the Government’s NHS plans that the more people learn about them, the less they like them. That was true then and it is true now, despite the many changes to the legislation. These are the wrong reforms at the wrong time, driven by the wrong ideology. Labour will continue to lead the challenge against these plans in the other place, and we will oppose this Bill tonight on Third Reading.
Order. As Members will see, we have only a very short time before I put the Question, so could they please be very pithy and short in their contributions in order to get as many Members in as possible?
“identified the lack of progress in reducing health inequalities as the most significant health policy failure of the last decade.”
Opposition Members should bear that in mind when they talk of a two-tier health service, because they fail to focus on outcomes and they fail to focus on inequalities.
I welcome the duty of the Secretary of State, the NHS commissioning board and clinical commissioning groups to have regard to reducing health inequalities. Let us see something done about that scandal. I also welcome the work of the NHS Future Forum in setting out the central dilemma surrounding the role of the Secretary of State. The NHS should be freed from day-to-day political interference, but it must also be clear that the Secretary of State retains ultimate responsibility.
I will not, because so many Members are waiting to speak.
There has been real scaremongering about, in particular, the difference between the duty to provide and the duty to secure provision, but I believe that the wording simply reflects the reality. The key issue is the line between the ability to step in if things go wrong, and the very real need for politicians to step back and let clinicians and patients take control.
I shall cut my speech short because I have been asked to be brief, but let me end by saying that, for three clear reasons, I would not be supporting the Bill if I thought that it would lead to the privatisation of the NHS. [Hon. Members: “Have you read it?”] I assure Members that I have read it in great detail.
Let me give those three clear reasons. First, clinicians will be in charge of commissioning. Secondly, the public will be able to see what clinicians are doing. Thirdly, neither clinicians nor the public will allow privatisation to happen. They do not want it to happen, and neither do Members of this House.
PCTs and foundation trusts did not meet in public, but they will do so in future, and it is the public and patients who will ensure that the NHS is safe in the hands of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
I fear that for all the listening, the work of the Future Forum, the concerns voiced by health professionals and our constituents who rely on the health service, and the two days of debate in this place, we have ended up on Third Reading with something that is not substantively different from the original idea. Although it is three times longer than the National Health Service 1946 Act, which created the NHS, the Bill before us leaves us with more questions than answers. I suspect that that will remain the case for some time, as the Government have indicated that more amendments will be tabled.
It is astonishing that we have progressed from a Bill that was never meant to be, because the Conservative party had promised no top-down changes to the NHS, to the Conservatives’ having a supposedly well-thought-out plan—which required a pause because of the sheer scale of the public’s and medical professions’ opposition—and then to the Bill that we have today, which needs more amendments. Sadly, the changes are not substantive enough. The Minister told us yesterday that 715 of the 1,000 amendments were intended merely to change the words “commissioning consortia” to “clinical commissioning groups”. I believe that the public, clinicians and those of us who could see right through the Bill were looking for something more substantive when the Government stopped to pause and promised to listen to people’s concerns.
The Health and Social Care Bill that we now have is still as confused and muddled as on the day it was first brought before the House. I expect that Ministers hoped to confuse and bore people into submission. Disgracefully, the Government began to change the NHS structures without the consent of the people even before they produced the Bill, and they continue to do so even though it has not passed through this House or proceeded to the other place—where it is to be hoped that it will receive the thorough and tough consideration that we should have had the time to give it here.
What we have is a Bill that is high on autonomy and low on accountability. It is supposed to be built on the principles of efficiency, reducing bureaucracy and cutting out waste, yet I do not believe it achieves any of them. In fact, in practice it does the opposite. The Bill will leave us with an organisational malaise, as the number of bodies and organisations significantly increases, with the relationship between them all being complex and incoherent and severely lacking in detail and accountability. The Bill leaves us with a financial challenge that has never been achieved in any health economy anywhere in the world at the same time as removing great swathes of the people with the experience and skills to deliver this outcome. The Secretary of State said that he admired NHS employees. If that is so, why have his policies led to so many of them losing their jobs?
The Bill will leave the NHS open to European competition regulation, all of which will be overseen by an economic regulator enforcing competition who appears to think the system can be based on an outdated and failing regulatory model like that of the utilities sector, and whose accountability to Parliament and the Secretary of State is unclear. Ultimately, I believe the Bill has been driven forward as an ideological exercise, rather than through a desire to improve the quality of health care available to the people of this country. The Government could have achieved the changes they said they wanted without all this structural mayhem, such as by reducing the number of primary care trusts, changing the make-up of the boards and putting clinicians firmly in the driving seat, but perhaps that was not macho enough.
This evening, the Government are in serious danger of consigning to the bin 13 years of progress, in which patients were being treated within four hours in accident and emergency and were guaranteed an operation with 18 weeks. Tonight, I genuinely fear that the Bill before us will be the equivalent not of throwing a grenade into the NHS, but of pushing the button on the nuclear option: a completely disproportionate response to the challenges facing the NHS.
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.”
I therefore urge the Liberal Democrat Members of this House to consider whether they genuinely believe this Bill will deliver a better, more caring and more patient-led NHS.
Earlier in the debate there were suggestions of scaremongering, so let me be clear: I am not scared; I am terrified—terrified that this Conservative Government will kill off the NHS, a system of health care that is envied throughout the world and that is being threatened for the sake of ideology. I am not scaremongering when I say that if this Government destroy the NHS, they will never be forgiven.
In yesterday’s debate Frank Dobson said of the NHS that he believed that in most parts of the country and most of the time it does a good job for people, but I want to see it doing an excellent job for people in all parts of the country all the time, and that is what this Bill will achieve. Having served on the Bill Committee, it is a great sadness to me that that message, and the fact that patients will be at the heart of the NHS, has been lost in the months of scaremongering—a word used by the last speaker—and wrangling by those who have campaigned against it and have obscured all such messages. That has been totally unfair to the patients who rely on the NHS.
I briefly want to make two points. First, Members who served on the Committee will know of my passion for getting the right treatment for mental health patients, and at a meeting of the all-party group on mental health yesterday the Bill was described by GPs as a great opportunity: an opportunity for the integration of primary and secondary care—something they have not had before, and that will now be achieved.
Secondly, as my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston said, the Bill puts clinicians at the heart of commissioning. When the Bill was recommitted, my researcher said to me, “This Bill is a gift that keeps on giving.” Now it is time for this present to be handed over to the other place, but it needs to reach the statute book and we need to implement it on the ground. I have heard nothing from the Opposition in the past eight months to convince me that this Bill should not receive its Third Reading and get on to the statute book, and I urge all hon. Members to support it.
I have been a Member of this House for 28 years and I have been active in different parts of health policy for many years, and I have never seen any Bill—not just any health Bill—come to this House so ill-prepared to be put on to the statute book. I served during the two stages of the Public Bill Committee. Largely, I asked questions where I wanted explanations, but I got very few answers. As was said earlier today, part 3 remains in this Bill and its 97 clauses bring in economic regulation. Only nine of those clauses have been amended since the Future Forum met and said that we were in deep trouble with this.
What did the Future Forum ask for? It recommended that Monitor’s powers should
“promote choice, collaboration and integration.”
Monitor’s powers have changed somewhat, but the major change that occurred during the second part of the Committee stage was that the Government took away Monitor’s power to promote competition and gave it a new power to prevent anti-competitive behaviour. Perhaps, at some stage, somebody will be able to tell me what that means. Perhaps somebody will also be able to tell me the answer to something I asked in the first sitting of the Public Bill Committee: what do the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading have to do with the mergers of two NHS trusts? The relevant Minister said at the time that that was a good question, but I have not heard it answered since.
I must say, with all due respect, that no Labour Member argued that the NHS is perfect, nor would I do so. But this Bill is a dog’s dinner. The national health service and the nation do not deserve it, and I will vote against it tonight.
Like my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, I would vote against the Bill if I thought that it was going to promote the privatisation of the NHS. One thing that this Bill has in common with every health Bill I have attended in 21 years is that its opponents claim that it is about privatisation, but it is about nothing of the kind.
As the Secretary of State made clear, this is a different Bill, in some important respects, from the Bill that was first presented. First, the Bill introduces a statutory duty to promote the integration of health and social care—Labour Ministers talked about that but never delivered it. Secondly, the Bill introduces new safeguards against cherry-picking by private sector providers—Labour Members say they were against cherry-picking but they never introduced such safeguards. Thirdly, the Bill introduces new safeguards in respect of the continuity of essential services provided by private providers, who were introduced by Labour into the delivery of health and social care—such safeguards were never provided by Labour. Fourthly, the Bill makes real a commitment to the introduction of the clinical leadership of commissioning—Labour talked about that in office but never in reality delivered it. So this is a Bill that has been changed and improved as it has gone through the parliamentary process.
Let us not belittle the extent to which the Bill actually builds upon the same policies that were pursued by Labour in government: a policy of the extension of commissioning to act on behalf of the patient and the taxpayer; a policy to promote the development of foundation trusts as the best way of delivering care. This Bill takes 20 years of consistent development of policy and converts the words of Labour Ministers into reality. That is why I support its Third Reading tonight.
Extremely briefly, I want to put on record my view that the Government’s handling of this Bill has been a monumental abuse of the principles of accountability in this House. It was sprung on an unsuspecting nation after an election in which there was no mention whatsoever of these proposals, after an air-brushed Cameron advert said, “I will cut the deficit, not the NHS.” Despite those misleading signals, there has been no commission of inquiry to examine its philosophy or ideology, no proposal to pilot it—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
The House divided: