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Guest editorial Friday 11 March 2011: Sad or bad? Limp Dem Health Minister Paul Burstow

Irwin Brown of the Socialist Health Association takes a disparaging look at the Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow

The role of Lib Dems in the destruction of our NHS is characterised by the lamentable performance of Paul Burstow, who is active on the Bill Committee.

During the Committee exchanges, his role has been to read out lengthy and detailed explanations provided for him to justify every detail of the Bill.

Whilst all suggestions from the critics of the Bill have been rejected, there have already been over a hundred government amendments to correct errors and inconsistencies in their own Bill.

The only other function is to parrot the charges that ‘Labour did it as well’ or that ‘Labour’ should have done it but didn’t'. Oh, and to smile at his honourable friends, the Tories.

His grasp of health policy was illustrated by his Guardian interview where he claimed that “there is at the moment an awful lot of price competition brought in by Labour through its independent treatment sectors.  As a result of the policy changes we are bringing in there will be less price competition”.

So there will be less competition after we bring in a regulated market with the aim of, um, promoting competition?

Behold the power to encourage!
He also places great store on the role of Health and Wellbeing Boards and was nonplussed when Labour pointed out that the only duty they have is to encourage things and that they have no powers. You can compare this with the over 250 pages of details of all the powers vested in the NHS system through use of regulations, directions and guidance - as well as the list of duties placed on other bodies.

’What is not disputed is that the Consortia are not responsible in any way to the Health And Wellbeing Boards‘

The Bill provides for Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (which is not new) and for a Joint Health & Wellbeing Strategy (rather like all the other joint strategies and plans we have had for years, which do not appear to have ever changed much).

What is not disputed is that the Consortia are not responsible in any way to the Health And Wellbeing Boards.

LibDems also share the illusion of backbench Tories that somehow, the Bill will make the reconfigurations they have opposed less likely. The reverse is true.

About half of MPs have at some time or other stated they are against some closure planned in some NHS service or facility, and some have even opposed closures which nobody has even suggested.

Competition and market exit
It is obvious that the Bill is designed around markets and competition which requires it to be easy for services and facilities to be closed as a result of choices made. As the Prime Minister said, if you don’t use it you will lose it - something like that.

Under the Bill if a provider decides to shut down a loss-making service, facility or even a whole hospital and there are no designated services (which there will not be in most urban settings), then they can. The whole point is to make reconfigurations easier; not harder.

The only other LibDem on the Committee, John Pugh, is a well-known opponent of the reforms who has already injected some well-informed criticisms, which have been rebuffed. Even he could not support the mad idea of bonuses for GPs and voted against, leaving the committee chair to break the deadlock.

He has not been seen since, so presumably he is doing detention or sitting in the naughty chair elsewhere. We must hope he returns.

The pathetic attempts by Lib Dem leaders to claim this dreadful Bill has anything to do with either liberalism or democracy are almost farcical. They are dealing not with what the Bill says but with a phantom bill, a caricature. It is like a hall of mirrors with all kinds of distortions.

It is true that the Bill has little detail about how things will be implemented, but its intentions could not possibly be clearer.

Many Lib Dems may vote against the Bill at some stage, but they will do so only because they know that the Lib Dem payroll vote will be enough to ensure the Bill goes through. Sadly for democracy, our only hope of saving our NHS will be the Lords.

It is probably too late anyway, as Ministers, including Paul Burstow, are presiding over the changes even though they have yet to get legislative approval. There is no route back.