In the past week, many constituents have emailed me about the NHS. A large number were in response to the 38 degrees campaign, adding their own perspective to what was happening and asking me to pursue their concerns with David Cameron and Nick Clegg. I have read them all and I have discussed the Health Bill with Ministerial colleagues. This is my response.
The Government is not going to privatise the NHS. Nothing in our plans undermines the fundamental principle of the NHS: that it delivers care free to all, funded from general taxation, and based on need and not ability to pay. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have emphasised this repeatedly over recent days. This is non-negotiable.
But that does not mean the NHS does not need to change. I want the NHS to be even better than it is, saving even more lives every day and giving my constituents in North West Hampshire the best chance of living well with a long-term condition. Second, because the pressures on the NHS – caused by an ageing population and more expensive treatments – are rising all the time. Reform is needed to switch resources into front line care.
The reforms we want to see are simple ones, and many build on changes which were already under way. Patients should have greater choice and control over how and where to be treated. The NHS should be left free from political interference to focus on what really matters – whether patients get the best possible care. Doctors and nurses should drive improvements in patient care, supported by high-quality management. Hospitals should be given greater freedom by becoming Foundation Trusts. Local authorities should have a greater say in public health issues.
The Health and Social Care Bill sets out how, in legislative terms, we will meet these aims. As Andrew Lansley said in his statement on Monday, some of these concerns are based on myths. First, that the Government wants to break up the NHS: it does not. Second, that doctors and nurses are against our plans: they are not. GPs in over 6,500 practices have come forward to test the new arrangements. Third, that the Government is not testing the changes: it is. Finally, that frontline care is not being protected: the Government is increasing the NHS budget by £11.5 billion a year by 2014-15.
Some concerns are, however, genuine, and we understand those concerns. So, now that the Health and Social Care Bill has successfully completed its first stages in the Commons, the Government is going to take the opportunity of a natural break in the legislative process to pause, listen, reflect and improve our plans. This is a genuine listening exercise. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation and the implementation of these plans, changes will be made. We are setting up an NHS Future Panel, with a team of front line doctors and nurses to advise us on our reforms.
As a former Health Minister myself, I will continue to take a close personal interest in how our policy develops.
Best wishes, George Young