Never Trust a Tory on the NHS

The coalition good cop, bad cop routine continues with another shallow ruse today by the Conservatives to make it appear that the Liberal Democrats are playing a role in the Health and Social Care Bill. Don’t be fooled.

Earl Howe has tabled two new amendments to the bill. The first allows the independent regulator Monitor to retain more of its powers over foundation trusts. The second places a requirement that trusts’ governors vote on proposals to raise a hospital’s income from private patients by more than 5%.

At present, most trusts are limited in the amount of income they can raise from private patients to 2%.

One of the coalition’s plans is to allow foundation hospitals to raise 49% of funds through private medicine.

You might have missed this because they announced their plan to allow foundation hospitals to fill half their beds with private patients in the quiet period between Christmas and the New Year when they hoped no one was paying attention.

Today’s amendment shows that they planned for hospitals to do this without even requiring a vote from the board of governors. Their desire to privatise the NHS couldn’t be more obvious.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham has responded to today’s development with scorn:

It has all the hallmarks of a behind the scenes Coalition deal designed as a fig leaf for Mr Clegg to cling to at a difficult Spring Conference this weekend. It leaves the Coalition’s plans to turn the NHS into a free market firmly in place and does not address the profound concerns of health professionals.

Richard Murphy has suggested that this is not Cameron’s poll tax – but his salt tax.

The salt tax was charged in India – but by the British, of course. It’s relevance was it was introduced with complete contempt for its impact in people, to deny a basic need and to grant a monopoly right to make profit and abuse to a tiny elite.

That makes it a perfect comparison for Cameron’s reforms of the NHS. The too are being introduced contemptuously, will deny access to a basic need and have sole intent of granting monopoly rights that will be abused for the enrichment of Cameron’s friends.

Is this what Liberal Democrats want? The distance between their values and the practices of the coalition government is now so untenable that their members are suggesting that the only way forward is for Nick Clegg to resign as leader of the party while continuing as Deputy Prime Minister.

Treasury minister Chloe Smith was heckled off-stage when she tried to address a NHS rally in Norwich this weekend.

Andrew Lansley had to be bundled away from protesters at North London’s Royal Free today in spite of attempts to keep critics and press away.

This will be the reception facing all Conservatives and Liberal Democrat candidates in future at every public appearance if this bill goes through.

Nobody is fooled by the Tories’ latest moves. This bill is a disaster. Liberal Democrats need to stop fooling themselves that a few stage-managed concessions from Cameron are enough.

The reforms should never have been allowed to get this far. The only option left now is to drop the bill.