Rt Hon Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour's Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Today is a critical day for the NHS. It is a day on which the Lords will have up to two final opportunities to have an impact on the future of the Health and Social Care Bill, a day on which because of the Coalition majority in the Commons, the fate of the NHS will pretty much be sealed.
As we know, the vast majority of health and social care professionals as well as the general public are against this Bill, as it will exacerbate the problems they are already experiencing as a result of the Nicholson challenge. But the Coalition is determined to plough its ideological furrow regardless.
It is not that the NHS will change radically overnight, because it won’t. We are already seeing the steady increase in waiting lists, more pressure on overburdened front line staff and, in some places, concerns that there will be a lack of health bureaucrats to cope with the new system. The most profound changes will be seen in a few years time when services have been fragmented, when hospitals will be competing rather than collaborating and caring, and when private companies – including foreign multinationals – will be making money from what should be a public service.
So I believe that we in the Lords have a duty today to firstly, support the motion by Lord Owen, which would ensure that the 3rd Reading would be deferred until Parliament has seen the Health Bill’s risk register. And if that motion should fail, we have a duty to what would essentially be a vote against 3rd Reading of this potentially damaging legislation.
In the Lords valiant efforts have been made to change the Bill and some remarkable changes have been made, for example in relation to education, training and research, but the most important changes were not agreed to and the Bill as it stands will lead to the break-up of what Crossbench peer Lord Hennessy has called “the closest we have ever come to institutionalising altruism”.
For many Peers, if Lord Owen’s amendment is not passed, today will be the end of a lengthy and exhausting legislative process in which they have spent hour after hour trying to secure change. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who have worked on the Bill, but especially to my own front bench health team Glenys Thornton, Philip Hunt, Jeremy Beecham, Margaret Wheeler, Ray Collins and Jessica Levy. Under Glenys’s leadership they have done an extraordinary and difficult job, and all those concerned about the future of our NHS have much to thank them for.