This afternoon the Health & Social Care Bill is getting its final reading in the House of Lords. The outcome of this vote will have huge ramifications for the future of the National Health Service.
Last week I tried emailing a single Lib Dem MP, Sarah Teather, to ask that she vote to drop the Bill. I chose Ms Teather not because she’s my MP but because she always seemed to me to be basically a pleasant and trustworthy person. She’s also a Liberal Democrat, the party that could have swayed the vote and at one time were a bunch I thought quite highly of. Ms Teather did not respond, even to acknowledge my email. It is a great shame that she did this but what’s worse is that she didn’t even show up to vote, which contributed to the failure of the motion.
I have also written to my actual local MP, Mark Pawsey, urging him to support the release of the NHS Risk Register, and he responded as follows (I am quoting from his letter): “This Government is committed to transparency and is publishing more information than ever before to help patients make the right choices about their care … Risk registers are specific policy tools used across Government that present risks in ‘worst case scenario’ terms … to release these documents would damage the ability of Ministers to receive accurate advice, mislead the public debate and be detrimental to the public interest.”
This is clearly nonsense. Apart from the Orwellian use of the word “transparency”, and the fact that the Information Commissioner has asked that the nhs risk register be made public, which he would never have done if there were any technical reason for it to remain secret, how can it be against the public interest to release information which is absolutely relevant to the debate?
I find myself growing more and more depressed and, paradoxically, exercised by the news of the Bill as it groans on. I can’t express my contempt for Andrew Lansley deeply enough for his ill-conceived plans and snubbing of democracy. I was similarly angered by reports on Twitter about aggressive and intimidating police tactics used against peaceful NHS demonstrators in London on Saturday. When I first read the tweets about police being deployed armed with machine guns to control the protestors and verbally and physically abusing a woman with a 4-year-old child, I went straight to the BBC News website to see what on earth was going on. Nothing – not a dicky-bird. The same on the Guardian website, and on the Channel 4 News website. To date I’ve still seen nothing on these sites about any of this. I tweeted at them to ask why not but didn’t receive a response. I wasn’t in London myself at the time but I know for a fact that demonstrators did not behave in a manner befitting such policing precisely because those news websites failed to report anything. Had there been “clashes” we would have known about them straightaway. My faith in this government and its tactics grows ever lower… and don’t even get me started on George Osborne’s plot to lower the top rate of tax or Michael Gove, well, just being Michael Gove.
But, I digress… today I tried to find a website giving the ability to email all Lib Dem peers to ask them to vote to save the NHS. I couldn’t find one, but I did find most of their email addresses on the parliament.uk website. I manually copied the ones that were displayed into an email and sent them all the following letter:
As an extremely wavering Lib Dem voter/supporter I am counting on you as a Lib Dem peer to restore my trust in the Liberal Democrats and the democratic process and save one of our country’s most vital institutions.
It will be clear by now that the Health & Social Care Bill threatens many vulnerable people. The National Health System will be fragmented, private providers will take over and care will be rationed. This is deeply wrong, and I will tell you a one-paragraph story from my personal experience as to why.
Seven years ago my first child was born at an NHS hospital in Surrey. I hadn’t, thankfully, had much cause to use the NHS during my life. My wife went into labour around 7 in the morning but 24 hours later, most of that spent in the hospital, she still hadn’t given birth. The decision was made to induce the delivery and possibly perform a caesarean. Suddenly we went from a quiet private room in which one midwife was encouraging my wife to “push” to an operating theatre in which no fewer than a dozen medical experts were in attendance – all for one baby and one woman. I was staggered at this level of care and attention. The team of doctors and nurses delivered the baby without having to perform the caesarean and, just as importantly, my wife and I were personally comforted at this extremely emotional and worrying moment by members of the team. My wife was fine and our son was born healthy and has just celebrated his seventh birthday.
This service was paid for by me and millions of other people out of our taxes and this is why the UK is a better place than other countries where we wouldn’t even have been let into the building if we hadn’t had the money to pay for the care.
Our government is eroding democracy by trying to push through this Bill against the will of doctors, nurses, patients and taxpayers. I am PLEADING with you to respect democracy and transparency and stop this damaging bill now. I would like you to ensure the government’s Risk Register is published to enable full debate about the consequences of any reforms – but if you cannot or will not do that, at least recognise that millions of people never voted for the proposed changes, and hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions and contacted politicians such as yourself to express this view.
Please vote to save the NHS.
Many thanks and kind regards.
So far I’ve had four automatic replies: one from Baroness Bonham-Carter saying “I do not check this email address every day”, one from Lord Tordoff saying “I shall be away until 28th March. During that period I will not be able to process any e-mails”, and one from Lord Clement-Jones saying “I am currently out of the the office” although adding that the email will be forwarded to another address. I’ve also had an automatic reply from Baroness Williams saying “Thank you for writing to me about the Health and Social Care Bill. I have received hundreds of emails and letters so I’m afraid I cannot provide an individual reply”, going on to outline her position and provide explanations for it. Since that was an automatic reply I’m quite surprised that her email software knew that it was about the Health & Social Care Bill. Maybe she has a guilty conscience. I sure hope some of them have.