Lord Soley doesn’t like the Health and Social Care Bill but I do. I was glad to see it passed. I felt quite elated last night after the final vote. I was able to speak against the Lord Owen delaying amendment and glad he lost the vote by a large majority. To my surprise even the crossbenchers who had started out in opposition to the bill, even some doctors like Lord Walton and Lord Patel, were won round when they scrutinised the final amended version. This really does credit to the responsiveness of the bill team and to Ministers’ determination to address concerns head on.
But the key question remains. How did we get into a position where the Government introduced a bill which the public had no idea we needed and which they certainly didn’t want? How did a bill which moved policy quite modestly become perceived as a great threat to the very existence of the public’s rightly treasured NHS? And the answer is that no real attempt was made in advance of the Bill to be honest about the real motivation behind the Bill, which is largely about addressing the dire financial situation, improving productivity in secondary care and transferring care into less costly and more appropriate settings. Instead we had the usual PR machine mantra about ‘choice’, ‘patient centred care’ and so on when the public has in fact never been as happy with the NHS as it is now. No wonder the staff of the NHS were puzzled and resistant; no wonder the public thought if doctors didn’t like it then they wouldn’t. The lesson is that Government must be much more open about what problems it is trying to address and tackle head on what it can and cannot do. On this bill they left themselves open to a barrage of misinformation which only the passage of time will reassure the public is wrong.
I bumped into Lord Soley in the Princes’ Chamber outside the chamber after the debate last night. He was his usual friendly self in telling me we supporters were all mad. Of course he could be right…but I’m sure the resilience of the NHS will prove him wrong even if he is right!