Bill to safeguard the National Health Service

On Friday 21st November 2014, Fabian remained in London for the debate and vote on the House of Commons Private Members Bill concerning the National Heath Service. The Bill had been introduced by Clive Efford MP the Labour Member for Eltham and was designed as a direct challenge to the increasing use of private sector companies within the National Health Service.

Thew wording of the proposed legislation would make it mandatory for the Secretary of State to provide national health services in England. Of particular concern to the supporters of this bill was the potential impact of the proposed terms of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations which potentially would greatly restrict the government in providing public services directly.

There are many people in the Labour Party and in the country who view with great suspicion and concern the use of private companies to provide health services such as nursing care and surgery. They argue that in such areas, the generation of profit automatically means that less money is spent directly on patient care and that there is the potential for less control over standards or for safeguarding staff terms and conditions.

The terms of any international treaty between the European Union and the USA may seem far removed from the NHS but there are potentially profound implications. The philosophic basis of economic activity and the provision of public services in the USA dictates that such work should be undertaken by the private sector. A trading treaty to open markets on both sides of the Atlantic carries with it the expectation that the private sector will be automatically free to tender to provide public services in Europe. Consequently any government which might wish to retain public sector provision for services such as health using its own employees would be at risk of action in the courts from private companies who would be denied business opportunities.

Thus in the future TTIP might thus prevent national governments taking decisions to retain state provision in health or any other domain and the large international corporations well tuned to chasing government money for services provision, could inevitably have greater powers than national political institutions.

Clive Efford's Bill made specific reference to TTIP seeking to make sure that there should be no legally enforceable procurement or competition obligations imposed on any NHS body entering into any arrangement for the provision of health services in any part of the health service.

The first reading of the bill was approved by 239 votes (including Fabian) to 20, the government members having largely stayed away from the Commons for the debate. The vote which is a clear defeat for the Government does not mean that the Bill will become law as there are other stages that it must undergo in committee and in the Chamber. It is likely that the government will not allow time for the subsequent debate and or will conspire to defeat it numerically in a vote.

To read the full debate on Hansard - Click here

To see the TV recording of the debate - Click here Fast forward to 9:50 am