Kailash Chand: The e-petition for the NHS passes 153 000 votes

Kailash ChandThe e-petition calling on the government to drop its Health and Social Care Bill has now reached 153 000 signatures to become the second most popular campaign on Number 10’s official petition site. It already qualified for a debate in the House of Commons, when it passed the 100 000 signatures milestone. Some 90% of general practitioners, celebrities including Stephen Fry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Oliver, three Cabinet ministers, and a good part of David Cameron’s own party (see Tim Montgomery’s blog) don’t want the bill. Rarely have doctors, nurses, and the public been so united on a political question. Sadly, David Cameron is closing his eyes and ears.

All those who dismiss June Hautot, the 75 year old pensioner who confronted Andrew Lansley at the gate of Downing Street yesterday as a political agitator should remember she is from a generation that predates the formation of the NHS, and who can remember the unfairness of a world before universal healthcare. They are understandably concerned by the push for privatisation that is leading us back towards that state. Those who value and support the NHS will not stand idly by, whilst politicians try to force through such flawed and dangerous legislation for the sake of political expediency, rather than what is best for the health of the nation.

There is no democratic mandate for this bill. NHS workers and members of the public did not ask for this bill and do not want this bill. Yesterday the prime minister held an emergency NHS summit that shut out the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and other NHS workforce organisations who beg to differ too much. Furthermore, now even some Tories are joining the Liberal Democrat’s and Labour’s calls to publish the official “risk register” detailing what could go wrong, but Andrew Lansley continues to resist this. This does not bode well for democracy.

Andrew Lansley’s three key principles underpinning his reforms are that it will empower patients, empower clinicians, and focus on clinical outcomes, but these have been exposed as a smokescreen for introducing a new external market into the NHS, which will lead to increasing NHS commercialisation, privatisation, and the abolition of the National Health Service as a comprehensive healthcare system.

I’ve got 30 years experience of working in the NHS, from a junior doctor to a GP, and then chair of a PCT. In my fairly extensive experience you can make most things work—even across organisational and health and local authority boundaries—if you have the right working relationships which develop over time through honesty, openness, and trust. The way this bill has been managed by the Department of Health and the government is a stunning example of how not to do things. The bill’s very originality has been changed, and its details have been rewritten. After 1000 plus amendments in the House of Commons, ministers recently tabled over 100 more in the House of Lords. In the future I have little doubt that it will be held up as an example of just how not to manage something and of how one coalition government managed to very quickly destroy one of the world’s best health systems.

Cameron and Lansley keep insisting that some GPs are already implementing the reforms which therefore proves that it is a successful policy. They point to improved Accident & Emergency statistics for 2011 and say this is linked to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) pathfinder led policies. What a load of rubbish. I can’t think of a single major “policy” that is the result of CCGs. CCG’s commissioning intentions and QIPP plans are those of their PCTs with a few tweaks here and there. The plans they do bring forward are remarkably ordinary and simply reflect the old world of practice based commissioning models, tinkering round the edges of community and primary care services.

I accept NHS reforms are needed to tackle increasing patient needs and financial pressure on the NHS, but the government’s proposed changes will do nothing to help this. I therefore believe that it is in the national interest for David Cameron to allow the debate, as demanded by 153 000 (and counting) people who signed the e-petition, and withdraw the bill. We can then work together to sort out the mess it has already created.

You can view the e-petition at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670

Kailash Chand has been a GP for last 30 years and is now chair of the NHS Trust Tameside & Glossop. He was on the BMA council and general practitioner’s committee until last year. He was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to the NHS. He writes for the Guardian, and other regional and national publications on health matters.