I make no apology for returning to the subject of Tory cuts artist Andrew Lansley’s diabolical Health and Social Care Bill yet again.
Because, in a period where cuts and privatisation are on every Tory’s lips, Lansley’s masterwork stands out as the most aggressive and unprincipled piece of butchery that the coalition has yet attempted.
And it may be – although this editorial had to go to bed before the debate in Parliament ended today – a game-changer for Clegg’s cobbled-together love affair with Cameron and his Conservatives, although we’re not going to hold our breath waiting.
But it’s a hopeful sign that prominent Lib Dem backbencher for West Cornwall MP Andrew George has declared that the Bill should be “stopped rather than paused.”
When he added that “saving the NHS is more important than saving a few egos in the coalition,” he did more in five minutes to salvage what little credibility the Lib Dems have left than his political master has done with all his meandering threats to oppose the measure if he didn’t like its eventual shape.
A Downing Street spokeswoman claimed today that the government intends to complete its “listening exercise” next month.
Well, whoopee for us. But why wait a month, when they’ve surely heard enough already? Royal College of GPs chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada was pretty clear when she said that the government needs to rewrite part of its Bill which encourages competition, because it risks “unravelling and dismantling” the NHS.
And, she added, “delivering in the end worse patient care – care that is more expensive for the taxpayer.”
Dr Gerada warned that the Bill would remove the Health Secretary’s duty to provide a comprehensive health-care system.
On its own that ought to be enough to consign this tatty piece of legislation to the dustbin, but it won’t because removing that duty is at the heart of why the Tories wanted the Bill in the first place.
Remove that duty and the NHS is essentially moribund and all that’s left is for the Tories to privatise functions steadily until nothing’s left but a husk.
That’s the college position and, if the Tories are really listening, that’s what they have to take on board.
But if the Tories don’t want to listen to GPs, then perhaps they might listen to NHS union Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea when she says that “this is the wrong prescription for our health service.”
Or they could listen to Easington MP Grahame Morris, a member of Parliament’s health select committee, when he urges them to drop Monitor, the new economic regulator of the health service, protect national pay, terms and conditions of NHS staff, limit the ability of private health care to enter the NHS at every level and not to privatise the health budget in GP consortiums.
Or, maybe, if they doubt that the Royal College represents doctors properly, the could turn to the British Medical Association to hear that its first special representative meeting in 20 years passed motions condemning the Bill in virtually every aspect.
And, if doctors won’t do, then how about nurses? Except that the Royal College of Nursing congress voted overwhelmingly that they had “no confidence” in Mr Lansley’s management of NHS reforms.
So what price the Tories “listening exercise?” They aren’t listening to the NHS unions, doctors or nurses. They aren’t even listening to their coalition partners.
But they might listen to each other, especially when they debate how to get rid of Mr Lansley, who has dropped the biggest clanger of this government so far.