Baroness Margaret Wheeler is a member of Labour’s Health team in the House of Lords
This week has been a crunch week for the Health and Social Care Bill, with the Lords scrutinising Part 3 of the Bill – which extends competition to the provision of NHS services and opens up the NHS to full onslaught on the open market from the big private health companies.
Frustratingly for Labour, and the hundreds of thousands of health care workers, Royal Colleges, patients and people arguing out there for the withdrawal of this dangerous Bill, our strong amendments which would have helped to protect the NHS from the worst impact of widespread competition were voted down by the Lib Dem and Tory Government. Some amendments originally put forward by Labour were taken over and watered down by the Lib Dems – and then, bizarrely, hailed as a big victory for them and the Coalition.
Strange logic indeed and it will be interesting to see what their Spring Conference makes of it all this weekend. Hard to see how the ‘big victory’ can be argued or sold – the stark fact is that the Lib Dems could have helped Labour get rid of the worst effects of Part 3 by supporting, or even abstaining, on the Labour amendments. Instead they voted them down in full force.
On a more positive note, I congratulate the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) whose rally and lobby of Parliament - and subsequent media coverage – ensured that we continue to keep the issue of social care high on the agenda, and increase the pressure on Ministers to address the growing crisis in funding, the quality of care provision and the potential funding solutions offered by the Dilnot commission. The CSA is the biggest ever alliance of charities, care home organisations and housing providers, all calling on the Government not to duck this key issue.
Well done too, to the TUC whose ‘All Together for the NHS’ rally in support of the campaign to drop the Health Bill took place last night. The campaign is made up of TUC-affiliated unions, the BMA, and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Midwives, and brings together health staff from around the country and across professions.
Today is another heavy day in the Lords on the Bill: this time addressing key Human Rights issues on the provision of personal social care in people’s homes – and turning once again to Labour’s campaign to ensure that the patients’ watchdog Healthwatch England has real independence to fight for the interests of patients and investigate complaints of poor care standards and treatment. Perhaps this time, we will get support from the Lib Dems? Or perhaps not...