Labour MP Clive Efford’s Bill on the NHS got through its second reading in Parliament on 21 November with 241 votes in favour and just 18 against.
It was a good though unexpected result, though nothing for the government to get worried about. There’s not enough time for the Bill to go too far before the general election next May.
The Bill gives an opportunity to have discussion and debate about what changes are needed to restore the NHS; and maybe to get a sneak preview of what Labour has in mind for the NHS.
The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign called a rally outside Parliament to welcome the limited changes of Efford’s NHS Bill (the repeal of Section 75 regulations which cover procurement, “patient choice” and competition) and to raise our own independent demands to restore and rebuild the NHS.
We organised a meeting inside Parliament with Clive Efford and a line-up of NHS campaigners, including Dr Jackie Appleby from the Save Our Surgeries Campaign; Peter Roderick (the lawyer who is working with Allyson Pollock and others on the NHS Reinstatement Bill); Joanne Lund, of the Darlo Mums 999 Call for the NHS; and Dr Jacky Davis, co-author of NHS SOS.
We expected Clive Efford to be confident and buoyant after the success of the second reading. Instead he was very defensive and brusque. When challenged by Peter Roderick as to whether the Bill restores the Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide the NHS he said anyone who suggested otherwise was “stupid and annoying”.
This was no way to start a constructive conversation with people who campaign relentlessly for the NHS, many of whom will be voting Labour at the next general election.
Efford appeared out of his depth, unused to explaining himself and his actions.
According to Peter Roderick, Efford’s Bill will not reinstate the duty to provide or secure provision as it was in the NHS Act 2006. Rather it transforms the duty to provide into a duty to commission.
Efford’s Bill seems to accept the confines of the 2012 Act. Describing the NHS as being a “service of general economic interest” in terms of EU competition law. Roderick says Member States have considerable discretion in determining what are SGEIs, and he asks, why make reference to it in this Bill when there is no legal requirement to do so?
Efford was impatient and gruff and failed to convince many of us. He was also taken to task about Clause 14 of his Bill and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). Efford says he’s in favour of Parliament deciding whether the NHS is exempt from TTIP. However, Clause 14 of his Bill does not say that!
The lawyers who put Efford’s Bill together on behalf of the Labour leadership have set their stall out on some key issues, and it’s lacking.
We should now campaign to get the government to allow the Bill to go to committee stage. We can then try to influence amendments to the Bill and have a bigger and more far reaching discussion on the detail.
Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is contacting NHS campaigners with Tory and Lib-Dem MPs asking them to lobby their MPs to put pressure on the government to set up the committee stage for the Bill. We are asking 38 Degrees to launch a petition demanding the government set up the committee stage.
We want the discussion in preparation for a possible Labour government after next May. We want to use the Pollock/Roderick NHS Reinstatement Bill to amend the Efford NHS Bill.
We want a real debate over the next few months around fundamental issues for the NHS.