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The Health and Care Bill represents an existential threat to the NHS – Margaret Greenwood MP

Photo by Mark Thomas

The public do not want to see the NHS privatised and they will not forgive those politicians who support a piece of legislation that does just that.

Margaret Greenwood MP

On Tuesday, I was one of a group of Labour MPs who delivered an invoice to Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street for the NHS care he received when he was treated for Covid-19 last year.

Our aim was to highlight the importance of saving the NHS from privatisation and to call on the Prime Minister to withdraw the Health and Care Bill.

The stakes are incredibly high: the bill represents an existential threat to the NHS. It would allow big business to have a say in what healthcare we receive and it would open the NHS up for takeover by big corporations. It erodes the concept of a universal service that will be there for us whatever health conditions we need treatment for by putting the focus on 42 locally managed health ‘systems’ which will be required to balance the books each year, rather than a National Health Service responding to patient need.

It is an astonishing and bold move by government to sweep away the concept of the NHS as a publicly run service.

Given the seriousness of the threat to our most cherished social institution, it is alarming how little the public knows about this. Yet we know that activists on the ground around the country are making the arguments and that thousands of people have written to their MPs calling on them to oppose it. It is crucial that people keep up the pressure.

The public do not want to see the NHS privatised and they will not forgive those politicians who support a piece of legislation that does just that.

The bill will be debated in the Commons on Monday and Tuesday 22 and 23 November at Report Stage and Third Reading. After that, it will go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

Labour was thwarted in its attempts to make meaningful amendments to the bill during its recent Committee Stage. It wasn’t for the want of trying. It was a case of not having the numbers, with the Conservative majority voting down anything that Labour pressed to a division.

Labour put pressure on the government in Committee to prevent private providers of healthcare services from becoming members of Integrated Care Boards (ICBs), the new bodies that will take over the functions of Clinincal Commissioning Groups in commissioning services. As a result, the government has brought forward its own amendment to address this concern, but it is characteristically weak and only ‘prevents the appointment of a member of an integrated care board (ICB) if they could reasonably be regarded as undermining the independence of the NHS because of their involvement in the private healthcare sector or otherwise.’

What’s more, even if there were a successful amendment to prevent private companies from influencing ICB decision-making, that would not stop them playing a part at sub-committee level; big business would still be able to have influence through provider collaboratives and various place-based partnerships. That is why I have put forward an amendment which is designed to ensure that any organisation carrying out the functions of an ICB on its behalf is a statutory NHS body.

The votes on Monday and Tuesday will change the course of NHS history. There is still time for people to email their MPs and call on them to oppose the bill.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have the NHS since 1948. Now is the time to stand up and demand the government protects it for all our sakes and future generations.

When the Prime Minister was discharged from hospital after his Covid treatment, he said: ‘…the NHS has saved my life, no question.’

Now he and his government should save the NHS by withdrawing the Health and Care Bill.

Photo by Mark Thomas

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