The Conservative Party has always been for putting power in the hands of the individual, rather than the state. It has been our mission for decades. We should not forget it now.
The Health and Social Care Bill represents the most radical decentralisation of power that the NHS has witnessed in its history. As Conservatives, it is our duty to support it.
It passes power to patients. It gives control over the NHS budget to doctors and nurses, and gives greater freedoms to hospitals. It cuts out £4.5 billion of bureaucracy. It is in every way a Bill that hands power to the frontline.
First, the Bill underpins a patients’ right to choose. That has been a central tenet of Conservative thinking for decades. The Bill is needed to stop healthcare providers – whether in the public, private or voluntary sectors – from frustrating the right of patients to decide how and where to be treated.
Second, the Bill enshrines in law the power that frontline staff should have the ultimate say in where NHS resources are spent. That used to be called GP fundholding. We won that battle in the 1990s – so successfully, that when Labour won the 1997 election and overturned it in a fit of pique, they found they had to bring it back in 2004 – albeit half-heartedly, and without legislation. This Government is finally putting that power back in place. And that is why organisations like the NHS Alliance, the National Association of Primary Care, and the Family Doctors’ Association support us. We need to put power in the hands of doctors and nurses, rather than a remote bureaucracy.
Third, it gives NHS organsations the freedom they once had to organise themselves as they see fit. It was Labour who took that victory away – by restricting the amount of work they could do outside the NHS. But you only need to look at the Royal Marsden – one of the best cancer hospitals in the world, and a hospital which escaped the worst excesses of Labour’s arbitrary rules – to realise how futile that was. Freedoms like the Royal Marsden’s deliver better care. And this week, more than 50 NHS Trusts wrote to the national newspapers in support of the policy that we have introduced to give hospitals greater freedoms. As Conservatives, we should not stand as a barrier to them. Not least because those freedoms will allow us to dismantle the top-down bureaucracy we know frustrates the frontline.
The simple truth is that the Bill hands power to the frontline, and all of the arguments against it simply play to the vested interests of those who have something to lose. In fact, the arguments against it are incoherent when put together in any case.
The first argument against the Bill is that we don’t need legislation. Those who articulate this argument all of a sudden should be asked why, then, do they oppose it?
The second argument against the Bill is that it introduces a free market free for all. This is inconsistent with the first argument, and indeed with the Bill. It is a myth that the Bill introduces a free market – rather it ensure the NHS is a properly regulated sector, which gives patients power while protecting patients’ interests.
The final argument is the most threadbare. People claim that the NHS needs to deliver £20 billion of efficiencies over the next few years, and that this Bill is a distraction. That is a cruel deceit. The Bill is needed to ensure that the NHS is more efficient. It is needed precisely to avoid a situation happening in the future where a Labour Government allows a £20 billion productivity black hole in the NHS from opening up.
So put simply, the Health and Social Care Bill does three things – three things that could only be achieved through legislation:
1. It hands power to patients
2. It puts doctors and nurses in charge
3. It reduces bureaucracy.
As a Conservative, those aims for the NHS are my aims. They should be supported by all of us. And so should the Health and Social Care Bill which makes those ambitions a reality.