“We’re talking about the NHS-people’s lives; life and death”

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is the text of the speech I delivered yesterday, at the Liberal Democrats’ East Midlands regional Conference, in a debate on a motion on the NHS Bill currently going through Parliament:

“I’m speaking in support of the motion and in support of a National Health Service which remains free at the point of use and that isn’t compromised by private providers-whose ultimate aim is profit-making and not the care and well-being of patients.
Now we need a thriving private sector in the country-that helps to create the jobs that will re-boot our economy.
So, I’m not some statist Labour-style nationaliser.
But, we’re not talking about business or industry.
We’re talking about the NHS-people’s lives; life and death.
I believe-as the motion states-that ‘the underlying Conservative agenda is the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS, with the Secretary of State and the NHS no longer delivering healthcare but simply buying it in the ‘market.”
Now, I pay tribute to the work of Nick Clegg, Paul Burstow and our other Ministers and MPs for the changes they’ve been able to secure since our party made its views clear on the NHS Bill at Spring Conference.
But we need to see further changes.
We certainly need to see-as the motion states-‘the restoration of the duty of the Secretary of State to provide or secure the provision of healthcare services, and the reinstatement of the power of the Secretary of State to delegate his functions to NHS Commissioners and to direct them as necessary.’
If not I believe there’s an accountability gap between politicians and patients.
We can be proud that it is Liberal Democrats in Government-and activists across the country-who are standing up and making their voices heard in support of upholding what’s best about our NHS and why we must never go down the American route of ‘if you can pay for it you’ll be treated, if you can’t then, sorry, tough luck.’
I, particularly, pay tribute to the work of The Social Liberal Forum-of which I’m a Member-and of Dr Evan Harris and Baroness Shirley Williams for leading the charge to uphold these values of universal healthcare, free-at-the-point-of-use, where what matters is the care and treatment you receive and not your ability to pay.
That was the National Health Service envisioned by that great Liberal, William Beveridge, and it’s the National Health Service, this generation of Liberal Democrats will fight to retain.
Labour’s hypocrisy on this-as on tuition fees-is nauseating in its apparent lack of self-awareness and of shame.
They introduced fees when they said they wouldn’t and, let us not forget, did that not due to the compromises of coalition but with a massive Parliamentary majority.
They too, in effect, introduced private competition in the NHS and are now up in arms when the Tories follow their lead.
As our brilliant President, Tim Farron, has said, ‘Labour spent thirteen years in Government behaving like Tories, and a year in a bit now in Opposition behaving like Trots-and deserve to be derided and ridiculed for both.’
I also agree with the motion when it says that: ‘Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers should not be whipped to support Conservative policies that go beyond the Coalition agreement and which have been rejected by our Conference.’
Of course Coalition must mean a certain level of compromise, but we shouldn’t be expected to support what goes beyond the Coalition agreement and what is fundamentally against our principles as a party.’
I say keep the NHS free-at-the-point-of-use and don’t go any further in introducing private competition.’

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