NHS news review

The House of Lords is debating the Health and Social Care / Destroy the NHS Bill. Rebel Liberal-Democrat peer Shirley Williams has proposed an amendment that maintains the “duty to provide” NHS services. Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Burnham has asked for Liberal-Democrat support for the Williams amendment.

An analysis by the Unite Union reveals that many peers supporting the destruction of the NHS have private healthcare interests which will benefit.

Andrew ‘McDonald’ Lansley’s voluntary deal with alcohol producers and junk food companies is criticised by the Health Select Committee.

Scotland keeps its NHS public

North of England loses NHS funding

Conservative election poster 2010

A few recent news articles about the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat (Conservative) coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.

House of Lords will be able to vote on key NHS clause | Society | The Guardian

Peers will be able to vote on the government’s controversial plan to hand over its “constitutional responsibility” to provide NHS services to an unelected quango on Wednesday.

The government is attempting to convince Liberal Democrats to back a measure proposed by a former Tory lord chancellor, Lord Mackay, which would allow the health secretary to take control of the health service only in the event of “emergency, failure or breach”. But an amendment by Lib Dem rebel Lady Williams, which revives the original “duty to provide” NHS services, is likely to find significant support in the upper house.

In a letter to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, Labour’s health secretary Andrew Burnham asks for support to “stand firm with us” behind the Williams amendment, which has been backed by Labour’s health spokesperson in the upper house, Baroness Thornton.

With peers beginning line-by-line scrutiny of the coalition’s NHS bill on Wednesday, the government has been attempting to rebut detractors of all political persuasions influenced by the powerful Lords constitutional committee. The committee warned last month about the “extent to which the chain of constitutional responsibility as regard to the NHS [will be] severed”.

‘Peers with private healthcare links vote for NHS privatisation’ says Unite

The second reading of the bill saw a record turnout for the modern House of Lords, with the largest numbers of peers voting since the 1993 Maastricht Treaty debate.

But an examination of the division lists shows that many of those who turned up to vote through the bill worked for companies that stand to directly benefit financially from the bill or work as lobbyists, and do not routinely attend House of Lords votes.

The so-called ‘backwoodsmen’ – Tory peers, often hereditary, who do not normally attend parliament but can be turned out occasionally to pass controversial legislation, such as the poll tax – were historically criticised as one of the most unacceptable features of the unelected upper chamber.

The passage of the bill suggests that the government is now resorting to Thatcher’s old tactics again – but with big business interests also playing a role.

Criticism will be fuelled by the revelation that the peers identified did not stay to vote on the Localism bill, which was debated immediately after the health bill and voted on before 6.00pm on the same day.

The following Lords were highlighted by the investigation:

* Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, the former Tory health secretary and now a director of BUPA, has an attendance rate of just 20 per cent since 2005 and has voted on less than half the Lords’ voting days this year. She has, however, turned up for every day of the health bill.
* Baroness Cumberlege of Newick is another former Tory health minister who runs her own lobbying firm, Cumberlege Connections, which works ‘extensively’ with major pharmaceuticals interests. She has recorded votes on just 22 days this year, but has voted in every division on the Health and Social Care bill.
* Notorious tax avoider and billionaire Tory bankroller Lord Ashcroft ‘of Belize’ has had investments in, at least, two private healthcare groups. His business interests have led to an attendance rate of just 16 per cent and he voted on less than a quarter of voting days this year, but did make a rare appearance to help ram through the privatisation of the NHS.
* Tim Bell, the founder of Saatchi & Saatchi and Tory advertising guru and now Lord Bell, is another businessman whose appearances in the Lords are rare. He has attended only a fifth of voting days this year. But as chairman of Chime Communications, which owns lobbying firms such as Bell Pottinger, he represents health companies including BT Health, pharma giant AstraZeneca, and the now-infamous Southern Cross, and he voted to pass the Tories’ health bill.
* Lord Chadlington is another Tory peer who appears to make his money in the lobbying industry, and his work as chief executive of the Huntworth communications group has kept him away from most votes in the Lords this year, but again he voted for the health bill.
* Lord Coe is a Tory grandee with one of the worst attendance records in parliament, at less than 10 per cent, and his name appears on the division list on only five days this year, but the government relied on him to get the bill through its second reading. He is a director of AMT-Sybex Group, which is the IT supplier to the NHS, and IT is one of many areas that the bill could lead to lucrative new opportunities for health contractors.

MPs deride Lansley’s ‘nudging’ deal with food and drink firms | Politics | The Guardian

Coalition deal with food and drink firms will not improve public health, the Commons health select committee has warned

The deal done by the coalition with food and drink firms in an attempt to improve public health will not solve what are huge problems of obesity and chronic drinking, MPs warn in a report on Wednesday.

The Commons health select committee also says the government’s other reforms risk widening health inequalities, and that frontline public health services are being cut because of the NHS squeeze, despite ministerial assurances to the contrary.

The cross-party group of MPs have serious doubts about the effectiveness of health secretary Andrew Lansley’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, whereby fast food firms, drinks makers and supermarket chains help shape the coalition’s approach to public health, and thus avoid being subjected to further legislation, in return for what critics say are inadequate changes, such as cutting salt in food.

The report echoes concerns expressed by the British Medical Association, campaigners, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver at ministers’ reliance on voluntary agreements with big business. The government must be ready to use legislation if efforts to “nudge” people fail, the MPs say.

While not opposed to “nudging” per se, they are “unconvinced the deal will be effective in obesity and alcohol abuse, and expect the Department of Health to set out how progress will be monitored and regulation applied if necessary”. The committee, led by former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell, believes “partnership with commercial organisations has a place” but adds: “Those with a financial interest must not be allowed to set the agenda.”

Related:

McDonald’s and PepsiCo to help write UK health policy | Politics | The Guardian

Leading doctors call for urgent crackdown on junk food | Politics | The Observer

Scotland keeps its NHS public | Healthcare Network | Guardian Professional

The Scottish Nationalist administration has deliberately minimised the role of the private sector in the NHS

During this year’s Scottish Parliament election campaign Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, made a memorable appearance on the BBC’s Question Time staged in Liverpool. He boasted that his government had “eradicated the private sector” from the NHS in Scotland. Furthermore, Salmond implored the predominantly English audience not to allow the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour to “destroy” their English NHS.

The audience gave Salmond’s words a warm reception. “We knew health would come up,” explained one of the first minister’s aides, “and the point we wanted to make was not that we do things so much better in Scotland, but to make the contrast.” The aide added: “That was the key moment – he [Salmond] spoke to them as if they were Scottish voters.”

Indeed, for a party whose ultimate aim remains ‘independence’ for Scotland, repeatedly highlighting the differences between public service delivery north and south of the border is simply good politics. At the recent SNP conference in Inverness Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish health secretary, echoed her boss’s theme, telling delegates it now seemed “inevitable that the Tories, aided and abetted by their Liberal [Democrat] partners, will break up the NHS in England.”

Complaint lodged in Gloucestershire NHS row | This is Gloucestershire

NHS Gloucestershire boss Jan Stubbings makes an official complaint about being questioned by a councillor.

TOUGH questioning on controversial NHS changes could land popular county councillor Brian Oosthuysen in hot water.

The Labour member for Rodborough’s exchanges with NHS Gloucestershire boss Jan Stubbings offended her so much that she has lodged an official complaint.

He had pressed her on several aspects of the handover of staff and services from NHS Gloucestershire to a community interest company.

That plan is on hold after a legal challenge from pensioner Michael Lloyd, backed by Stroud Against the Cuts.

“As far as I am concerned, I simply was asking questions of the chief executive and she got angry about one or two of the questions I asked,” said Coun Oosthuysen.

NHS funding shake-up could cost region £90m, warn MPs – Main Section – Yorkshire Post

HEALTH inequalities could widen following controversial reforms which it is claimed could see Yorkshire lose nearly £90m in NHS funding, MPs warn today.

A Health Select Committee report criticises a decision by Ministers to cut the weighting in NHS funding for health inequalities which will shift resources from the North to the South.

Public health experts in Manchester suggest Yorkshire could lose £87m once the full effects of the changes work through. Worst hit would be Barnsley, losing £14.7m, and Hull, losing £13.2m.

Only North Yorkshire and the East Riding would gain in the region under the change in the NHS funding formula which would leave Surrey as the biggest winner, picking up £61.4m extra.

The report also claims coalition reforms of public health, which will hand responsibilities to local authorities, pose a “significant risk” of widening health inequalities further.

It raises concerns about plans for a health premium – funding allocated to councils for good results – warning it will “undermine” areas struggling most to tackle problems.

Committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said: “The effect of this policy appears to be to target resources towards those areas which have made greatest progress with their public health challenges and away from areas which face the greatest outstanding problems.”

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