As Britain braces itself for the slowest economic recovery in a century and, as a consequence, the public sector faces increasing cuts, Andrew Lansley’s much talked about Health and Social Care bill is the government’s attempt to address the rising challenges faced by the NHS.
With an ageing population and higher expectations of healthcare services, every healthcare professional agrees that changes have to be made to the current system to ensure optimal patient care with scarce resources. Though periodical restructurings of the NHS have featured throughout its history, is Lansley’s proposal the ideal solution? For the last six months there have been concerns raised about the bill throughout British society. Patients, healthcare professionals and other politicians are all questioning whether the bill will open the doors to privatization, competition, and potentially even the sale of parts of the NHS.
On Wednesday, Lansley’s bill passed its greatest challenge yet: a vote in the House of Lords that could have slowed down the progress of the bill or undermined it completely. This came after fierce public opposition to the bill and a “Contact a Lord” campaign led by 38 Degrees which pushed Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy to table their amendment, calling for further scrutiny of the bill. Despite such wide spread opposition outside the Houses of Parliament, the bill survived by 330 votes to 262.
But was the bill really debated? Earlier this week, the Daily Mirror laid bare a list of 40 members of the House of Lords with interests in private medical companies. The list does not account for all 330 members who allowed the bill’s progression, however, it adds to the growing public concern over the conflicts of interests residing in both Houses of Parliament.
Such revelations can be dispiriting and lead to a reflex apathy on our parts. However, as a society with members accessing care and others providing it, we must not lose sight of the power we possess and the choices we encounter each day. Just this week, the Care Quality Commission report identified 55 cases of elderly care as “alarming”, with many hospitals not providing basic care to their most vulnerable patients.
After experiencing the NHS from both sides, as a patient recovering from lymphoma and as a practicing doctor, I think that we must all brace ourselves rather than be disheartened by the inevitable restructuring of the NHS. Each ward round, multidisciplinary team meeting, clinic and surgical procedure, is our chance to ensure optimal care, regardless of changes in policies and structure. Patients should continue to ask for the best care from healthcare professionals and the latter’s delivery of such care must not be distracted by volatile politics.
This does not mean we let policies pass unchallenged, quite the contrary. We must continue to take ownership and responsibility of the policies that govern our practice and fight to keep the NHS free at the point of access. Our primary responsibility remains unchanged whatever the political outcome. Restructuring does not mean patients temporarily stop accessing the health service and by no means should the quality of our service take a pause.
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