by Daphne Liddle

PRIME MINISTER David Cameron last Monday announced that the Government, after its well-publicised pause-for-thought, has accepted that large swathes of the NHS Bill need to be rewritten.

But the changes put forward by the NHS Future Forum and largely accepted by Cameron amount to no more than a change of gear and a slowing down of the huge planned structural changes.

But they have enabled Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to claim that he and his party have forced the Tories to accept major changes to the Bill and thus shown to seriously disgruntled rank-and-file Liberal Democrats that their party does have some weight within the Coalition.

It is also a tacit acknowledgement by the Tories that their timetable for implementation of the Bill was wildly over-ambitious. The concessions amount to allowing a token representation for nurses and hospital consultants on the GP commissioning boards that will control almost all the NHS budget.

And the Monitor will no longer be charged with compelling these commissioning boards to give private sector outfits their “fair share” of the market in providing operations and other treatments.

And it will not prevent doctors on those commissioning boards from becoming stakeholders in the private health companies and having the power to benefit their own pockets by awarding contracts to their own companies.

Health service unions were not for one moment deceived by the deliberations of the NHS Future Forum. The giant union Unite, which has 100,000 members working in the health service, said that the report of the Future Forum will do nothing to quell the concern of health professionals and patients.

Unite national officer for health Rachael Maskell said: “The problem with Monitor is that it will now promote choice, competition and collaboration — all of which are contradictory aims.

“The hybrid mess that Monitor will become will do to the NHS what other botched regulatory bodies have done to other public services — from rail to social care.

“Unless patient care comes first, then Monitor will fail patients — and our politicians will have failed them too.”


Unite repeated its call for the bill to be scrapped and that a commission of genuinely independent experts be set up to conduct a proper review of what is needed for the long-term needs of the NHS. Rachael Maskell said: “The way that David Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will interpret the Future Forum’s recommendations is that the pace of the privatisation of the NHS will be slowed down, but not abandoned — that’s the crux....

“The Liberal Democrats have to be aware that the privatisation train — which will turn into the gravy train for private healthcare companies — has not been derailed, but just delayed.”

The public sector union Unison said that the Future Forum’s report shows a Bill beyond repair. Even if the Government adopted all the report’s recommendations, “It is still the wrong Bill at the wrong time” warned Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison.

Really big questions over critical issues such as privatisation remain unanswered: just how will the government prevent “cherry-picking”? And why are there no limits on the amount and range of services that can be privatised.

Prentis went on to say: “The Government is creating a monster and the NHS is the victim. The Bill will pave the way for private companies to grab any part of the NHS where they think they can turn a profit.

“Once the NHS is opened up to competition, it becomes subject to European Competition laws and there is no turning back.

“It is a pathetic sight to see the Lib Dems crowing about their supposed success in arm wrestling the Government into accepting big changes to the Bill. The fact is the scale of the outcry against the Bill from Unison, health bodies, patients, charities and health professionals made it impossible for the Government to ignore the clamour for change.

“However, no amount of change can disguise this Frankenstein Bill — it is a recipe for privatisation.”

The NHS bill will now go back to the committee stage in the House of Commons to be scrutinised again by MPs before going through its House of Lords stages. This is expected to happen before the summer recess begins in July, and the Bill to be on the statute book by the end of the current Parliamentary session.

Labour leader David Miliband made a long-overdue intervention in the House of Commons on Wednesday, pointing out that benefit changes due to be debated later by MPs could see 7,000 cancer patients losing £94 a week in financial support. Cancer charities were angry about the move, he said, and the Prime Minister “did not know his own policy”.

Cameron said benefits would still be paid for at least a year.