Many Lib Dems will remember that at the spring conference I closed the debate on health and asked conference to support the amendments which had been proposed. This surprised many delegates who thought that the Party Leadership (not me by the way) had a closed mind on the health service changes and wanted to try and push ideas through conference. That cannot and should not happen at a Lib Dem Conference which is still a place where votes matter and the Leader cannot be guaranteed a fan club response!
That gave me a feeling of some responsibility about checking what has happened since the amended resolution as passed. I wanted to report back to conference on whether or not their amendment had achieved any lasting results. That was why I was pleased that the suggestion that I should introduce a discussion on the matter at Party conference was accepted by the Federal Conference Committee.
Some people think that it would have been better to have yet another resolution. That is not, I sense, the mood of the none conference going Party. They believe that the amendment has worked and that although Lib Dems could not in any way be described as fervent supporters for all the measures in the Bill there was more than enough there in which we could take pride to allow us to support it.
After our conference the whole Bill was ‘paused’ an unprecedented event in parliamentary history. A forum was set up to look not only at our concerns but at those of others particularly in the medical profession. That forum was led by a well respected national medical practitioner it included Lib Dem Cllr David Rogers who is chair of the well being Board at the LGA.
Most of the Forum’s recommendations were accepted and most of the Lib Dem resolution has also been incorporated into the Bill:
- There will not be mass privatisation of the Health Service. This has been predicted on the last two occasions that the Health Service has seen major reforms. It didn’t happen then and it won’t happen under circumstances where competition must be on quality not price grounds.
- The headlong dash has been slowed with a variable timetable to allow effective introduction.
- The role of councils and communities has been strengthened in the commissioning, delivery and scrutiny processes.
- The power of the Secretary of State will be broken and local decisions will be made by locally accountable people based on local priorities and local opportunities.
Now we need to move into delivery mode. The Bill when it becomes an Act will provide us with the opportunity to make a real difference to how health services are delivered and importantly how they fit into a continuum of public sector delivery that most ‘regular’ and long term patients require. Whether or not this Act works will move out of the hands of Ministers and into the hands of Councillors, GPs, PCT and Trust Board Members and community activists.
We should by now be gearing up for the change. We should be pushing our councils into adopting strong roles for the Health and Well Being, Commissioning and scrutiny Boards. We should be suggesting innovative ways of joining up services. We should be making contacts with a sector that most of us have had little contact with before.
Since we last met I have seen more of the Health Service than I would like. I have visited my GP more in the past 4 months than in the whole of the rest of my adult life. I then spent 6 days in the Royal Liverpool Hospital. Throughout the service that I got was exemplary. My Mum died in June in the Countess of Chester Hospital. So no-one has a greater affection for the NHS than I do.
But the time for change has come. We need to create a real National Health Service to replace the National Illness Service that we currently have. We need to address the real issues of an ageing population. We need to accept that advances in medical and technical science can keep people out of hospital for longer so we need less of them.
We need both as a party and a Country to move on. If we love the Health service we have to accept that change is inevitable. If we want to see it die because we cannot afford it and it is stuck in old ways and run by vested interests then we resist change till the last.