NHS (Private Sector)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 16th January 2012.

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Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 8:48 pm, 16th January 2012

It is a pleasure to follow Grahame M. Morris. He and I are both members of the Health Committee and, surprisingly perhaps, we more often find ourselves in agreement about the objectives that we are trying to deliver than is obvious from the nature of the debates across the Floor of the House.

I shall focus my remarks on the speech by the shadow Health Secretary. I have some quite good news for him—he was a far better Secretary of State than he himself appears now to believe. As Secretary of State, he did not allow himself to fall victim to the kind of prejudices that have been ventilated this evening. Tonight, he fell into the old trap of eliding two concepts and pretending that they are the same. The two concepts are, on the one hand, privatising the health service, and on the other, involving the private sector in the improvement of care available to patients. As Secretary of State, he was well able to distinguish between those two concepts and pursued policies of involving the private and voluntary sector when there were opportunities to improve care for patients. He now prefers to forget the fact that during his time as a Minister we not only heard plans for involving the private sector in improving the care delivered to patients but saw an open-minded attempt to bring in the private sector to improve the process of commissioning in the health service. That was what world-class commissioning was designed to deliver. We are now asked to turn our mind away from all those ideas.

I, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, am in favour of tax-funded care for patients. I am in favour of equitable access to high-quality care, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and like the shadow Health Secretary. I am also, however, in favour of plural provision, looking for the best solution for patients and the best value for taxpayers. In that respect, I am, as the shadow Health Secretary used to be but apparently no longer is, a straightforward Blairite. This was the breakthrough that Tony Blair taught the Labour party that it now appears to have forgotten. It was Tony Blair who advocated the introduction of private hospitals into the delivery of care and Tony Blair who stressed the importance of the third sector in finding new ways of improving care for patients, yet it is now my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who has to pick up the Blairite torch that has been so unceremoniously dropped by the shadow Health Secretary.

It is worth reflecting, is it not, on whether this Blairite consensus is the inevitable consequence of the principle of commissioning—