Hunt’s S75/SI252 pause is no NHS ‘reprieve’. Pressure must continue.

Along with many others, I’ve written recently about the Tories’ covert attempt to slip through ‘secondary legislation’ (Statutory Instrument 257/2013 or SI257) under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that will force Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to consider private providers for all health contracts, in spite of emphatic assurances during the passage of the then-Bill that CCGs would not be forced to do this.

I’ve also written about how Labour are fighting this undemocratic stealth-move, which will be a disaster for a truly-public NHS if it passes.

Yesterday, Labour made one move in its bid to get these regulations killed at the Parliamentary stage – an ‘early day motion‘ (EDM) calling for them to be ‘annulled’. LibDem MP and Health Select Committee member Andrew George deserves credit for supporting the motion, which vastly increased pressure on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his health team. If more of his party colleagues showed similar backbone the NHS would be in better circumstances.

Here is his contribution to yesterday’s Commons debate (emphasis mine):

In spite of my right hon. Friend’s earlier comments, I am afraid that the regulation that implements section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 does not maintain the assurances previously given and risks creating an NHS that is driven more by private pocket than concern for patient care. Will the Secretary of State please withdraw that regulation and take it back to the drawing board?

LibDem MP Andrew George

Health Minister Norman Lamb responded:

We are looking at this extremely seriously. Clear assurances were given in the other place during the passage of the legislation, and it is important that they are complied with in the regulations.

On the back of this statement and later comments from ‘government sources’, the newspapers are reporting this as a reprieve:

government sources said Hunt was prepared to review the regulations to satisfy the Lib Dems

However, this is by no means the reprieve that some appear to consider it. At best, it’s a lull – but the motion did not go to a vote and an EDM would not have been binding on the government even if a vote had taken place and gone against them.

Lamb’s statement that the government is taking the matter ‘extremely seriously’, and Hunt’s decision to ‘review’ SI257 to ‘satisfy the LibDems’ in no way mean that the government has given up on its aim to carve open the NHS for its private backers to feast on.

The Tories have ‘form’ for giving assurances that would then be ignored. At the launch of Lansley’s NHS Bill, the government promised that its changes to the NHS would be driven by the wishes of clinicians. Yet when every association of NHS professionals except one (and even the one was doubtful) said his Bill would be a disaster for the NHS – the Bill was forced through anyway.

In terms of securing the NHS against the government’s planned ‘carve-up’, a comment about ‘reviewing’ SI257 is not worth the breath it took to say it.

Hunt – for whom the phrase ‘a fox in the chicken coop‘ might have been written – will simply seek some form of wording that will allow the LibDems to acquiesce while achieving as much as he can get away with of the government’s obvious aim of forcing privatisation on the NHS.

Earlier in the debate, Hunt made the following statement (just after his ridiculous attempt to equate private health providers like Virgin, Serco and Circle with children’s and mental health charities):

The reality is that those regulations are completely consistent with the procurement guidelines that his Government sent to primary care trusts. He needs to stop trying to pretend that we are doing something different from what his Government were doing when in fact we are doing exactly the same.

Does that sound like the statement of a man who is in two minds about what he wants the result to be, or who is taking seriously the resistance to his secondary legislation?

Jeremy Hunt and his party will never back down willingly on SI257 – their financial backers would never tolerate it. They will abandon it only with their collective arms twisted so far up their backs that they can scratch the tops of their heads.

So it’s absolutely essential that all those who care about the NHS as a public service that will be there, free at the point of need, for us and the generations to follow, continue to resist, and to apply pressure in every available way.

Given that Hunt’s immediate aim has to be to find wording that will preserve the key aims of his legislation but will let the LibDems toe the line, our immediate aim has to be to put pressure on every LibDem MP, to make sure that they don’t settle for being fobbed off with some conscience-salving ‘weasel words’ and instead advise Hunt that they will vote against his measure if he proceeds with it.

So, if you live in a constituency with a LibDem MP (or a pro-NHS Tory, for that matter, if such a thing exists now), please email him or her urgently and tell them that you expect them to resist this damaging legislation designed to line the pockets of private health providers.

You can find out the contact details of every MP here. Jump in!

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