NHS: A round up of what we did and what it means

Example of the NHS Billboard ads

On Monday, the Lords and Baronesses of the House of Lords voted for the last time on the Health and Social Care Bill – the new legislation will make massive changes in our NHS.

Lord David Owen took our half-a-million strong petition into the House of Lords to show how many hundreds of thousands of us have been fighting passionately to stop the plans going ahead.

But in the end, the Lords voted to approve the plans and send them to MPs to be rubber-stamped to be finally made into law.

Yesterday, there was a final debate in Parliament calling for the government to publish the risk report before pushing ahead – but this too was voted down – and the Health and Social Care Bill will now be passed into law.

What we’ve done together

It’s been a busy 18 months since Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary first published his plans for the future of the NHS. And a lot has changed in the plans since the original vision. That’s down to the hard-fought campaign by 38 Degrees members, doctors and nurses groups like the BMA and the Royal College of GPs, and other groups including trade unions, Keep Our NHS Public and UK Uncut.

We gave it everything we had. First, we collected stories about what the NHS means to us and why it’s important. We organised local get-togethers around the country to discuss the plans. We started emailing our MPs and discussing their replies.

We launched a petition that quickly grew to hundreds of thousands of signatures. In April 2011 the government announced a pause in their plans while they held a “listening exercise”. A Sky News correspondent reported that government sources told him the change of tack was “the result of a lobbying campaign by a pressure group called 38 Degrees”.

Then 38 Degrees members stepped up the campaign by meeting up locally to organise deliveries of our huge Save our NHS petition to MPs across the country. And when it became clear that virtually no one knew how to join in Lansley’s ‘listening exercise’, we clubbed together and raised over £90,000 to buy adverts in national papers.

When the government announced changes to their plans after the “listening exercise”, thousands of us chipped in to hire expert lawyers to scrutinise the plans and see whether our concerns had been addressed.

The bad news was that little had really changed – the government was still trying to wash its hands of accountability for the NHS, and the plans would still open the NHS up to competition and many new private providers.

So we stepped it up. Tens of thousands of 38 Degrees members contacted their MPs via email, phone, Facebook and Twitter. Clearly rattled, Andrew Lansley lashed out and accused us of misrepresenting our own legal advice. Our lawyers produce detailed rebuttals showing up these claims to be wrong.

In September 2011, although almost half of English backbench Lib Dems refused to vote for the changes, MPs voted to pass the legislation to the House of Lords.

Since then, thousands of 38 Degrees members have written to Lords and Baronesses, we sent the “Drop the Health Bill” government website e-petition soaring past 100,000 signatures, commissioned a poll of NHS staff which proved they were overwhelmingly against the plans, and chipped in hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for massive billboard ads calling on David Cameron to call off the plans.

It’s hard to be on the losing side in any campaign. We came together in huge numbers to take action. People chipped in whatever they could afford to raise staggering sums of money to pay for legal advice, billboard campaigns and opinion polls.

Overall, the plans will be deeply damaging for our NHS – but we delayed them by many, many months. And the plans are not quite as bad as they would have been without our campaign.

Above all, we have made it a very politically sensitive issue. John Pugh a Liberal Democrat MP said in the debate yesterday “The cabinet may be banging the tables today. But they may be banging their heads against the wall in future”.

What have we achieved?

Most health experts still think these plans are a terrible idea. But they do also recognise that they aren’t quite as bad as they would have been without all our campaigning. In total the Health and Social Care Bill had around 1000 amendments.

The government originally wanted to abolish their “duty to provide” the health service. Our legal advice helped persuade members of the House of Lords, including prominent Lib Dem Shirley Williams, that this was unacceptable. Thanks to our pressure, this became a major source of controversy as the bill was debated in the Lords. In the end Lib Dem rebels and Labour worked together to water down Lansley’s plans to wash his hands of responsibility for the NHS. The final compromise isn’t as strong as the old “duty to provide”, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

Our legal advice also highlighted the huge threat posed to the NHS from competition law. Again we helped make this a major focus of the debates. Lib Dem, Labour and Crossbench Lords forced concessions including reducing the focus of Monitor, the NHS regulator, on promoting competition between different providers of healthcare services. We also helped removed plans to involve the Competition Commission in regulating the NHS.

But these are silver linings. Overall, many believe the new law will still push the NHS further in the direction of privatisation. Private health firms will be able to destabilise NHS services by “cherry-picking” profitable areas, and private consultancies are expected to be brought in by GPs to take important decisions over our healthcare. The threat remains that NHS services will end up being decided in the courts by competition lawyers.

Just as worrying, at a time of tight finances, scarce cash and energy is going to be diverted away from patient care and into a huge restructuring that few NHS staff think is a good idea.

We’ll have a guest blog up soon from an expert who’ll be able to explain in more detail what changes are likely to happen and when – and what we may be able to do (e.g. at a local level) to challenge them.

What people power has achieved

It wasn’t the result any of us were hoping for. But we can hold our heads high and be proud of what we have achieved together.

38 Degrees members said it best on the Facebook page:

Rebecca said: thank you 38 Degrees for working tirelessly and helping give people who love the NHS in this country a voice

Jon said: Methinks that whether or not they ‘listen’ the victory that everyone at 38 deg has achieved is in coming together. Even if the Bill goes through we can STILL forestall it’s worst effects by growing and fighting because that will scare away long term ‘investment’ in privatisation by the Health-Ghouls. Any entity about to make a long term investment always performs a risk analysis. Now the harder we fight the higher they rate the risk and if it gets too high no ‘investment’.No investment – no privatisation.Result.

Anona said: Well done on the campaign, got a feeling the changes will go ahead though. They already knew this would be an unpopular move, and still had the balls to propose it. Hope i’m wrong. I’m a Nurse and I dont want to see these changes come in, neither does the RCN! Cameron listens to no one

John said: If the bill does get through then that should be the start of our campaign

Mary said: power to the people the fight must go on well done 38 degrees

Manjit said: Well done to 38 degrees and 500 000 is fantastic support ..the govt will try to sell anything and make a profit !

Neil said: Well done 38 degrees and even if it does go through we can still put pressure on companies that bid for a slice of the privatised pie

Vicky said: They passed it!!!! NOOOOO!! Oh well – we tried!… Im up for keeping up the fight though. Massive respect to 38 degrees and their stirling work. What next then??!

What next?

As always, that’s up to 38 Degrees members. Should we carry on our work to protect the NHS? Do we want to keep working together to slow down the changes and reduce the damage to our health service? Or is it time to move on and focus on other issues?