Lib Dems: Party activists reject holding NHS protest vote


Nick Clegg: "Making GPs more responsible... is not a sort of outrageous idea"

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Liberal Democrats have decided against holding a debate calling for changes to the NHS in England to be dropped.

The party voted at its spring conference in Gateshead not to take an emergency motion urging the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Instead it backed Baroness Williams's rival option supporting the changes.

The controversial bill, which aims to give GPs control of much of the NHS budget, has changed "out of all recognition", leader Nick Clegg said.

In a question and answer session, the deputy prime minister said: "I'm determined to make sure the government reaches out to all the family of professions within the NHS, not in a spirit of rancour but in a genuine spirit of co-operation."

And he said of the amended bill: "If I felt it was privatising the NHS or tearing it limb from limb, it would never have seen the light of day."

BBC correspondent Norman Smith, at the conference, said Mr Clegg would be drawing a huge sigh of relief that a vote for the bill to be dropped would not now go ahead.

In the first round of voting, the motion urging the party to drop the bill won 270 votes to 246 for Baroness Williams' motion.

But second preference votes put the "kill the bill" motion on 280, compared with 309 for the motion supporting the reforms.

'Cynical leadership'

Dr Charles West, who proposed the defeated motion, said he was "very disappointed" the party would not get the chance to state its view.

"I think it's astonishing that the leadership has been so cynical as to label it the Shirley Williams motion, she didn't actually write it," he said.

"They've pulled a national treasure out to support them - but in my view the NHS is even more of a national treasure."

Start Quote

Simon Hughes

We wanted to make sure that the NHS is there so that it's not led by the interests of the private sector”

End Quote Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat deputy leader

Business secretary Vince Cable told the BBC: "We recognise reform has to happen. There are still a few issues to address, but by and large reforms that the party argued for have now been met."

It was "very difficult" to see why any Lib Dems should now object, he added.

Mr Clegg said earlier on Saturday that he believed members would be "comforted" by the large number of amendments made to the bill since it was originally published.

"I think it's a really good thing that Liberal Democrats worry as much as we do about something as precious as the NHS," he said.

"I think it would be a dereliction of duty if we didn't really really examine hard whether the changes we've introduced in the NHS are the right ones."

The bill aims to give GPs control of much of the NHS budget and would open up the health service to greater competition from the private and voluntary sector.

Some critics argue that the changes will amount to the privatisation of the NHS.

'Big exaggeration'

Last year discontent expressed at the conference about the NHS shake-up was followed by a "pause" on the bill - something Mr Clegg puts down to Lib Dem intervention.

This year's "emergency motion" says the Lib Dems "opposes the further commercialisation of the NHS" by "working together to achieve the defeat of this deeply unpopular bill".

Baroness Williams said: "The facts are the Lib Dems have hugely altered this bill to make a way that makes an acceptable, genuine health service.

"I am sorry about how we got here. But now we're here, we've done huge amounts to reform the bill and make it back to something that supports and doesn't undermine the NHS."

Labour's Andy Burnham had urged Lib Dem activists to help stop the NHS bill, in an open letter on a Lib Dem website.

On Thursday, the government offered a fresh concession to critics who complained that lifting a cap on the number of private patients treated in NHS hospitals would mean work was undertaken at the expense of NHS patients.

Health ministers moved amendments promising "checks and balances".

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said support for the Lib Dems was now at an "all-time low" and it was "electoral suicide" for the party to support the bill.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    I think it's fair to say that the majority of people in this country don't want a monolithic, socialist healthcare system. But we also don't want a market free for all.

    Whilst I believe the government are trying to get the balance right, I don't believe the current Health Bill is the right way of achieving it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    The Lib Dems seem determined to push themselves towards electoral oblivion... By casting themselves as the good guys who are helping tame the worst excesses of the coalition they frequently take the flak for unpopular reforms... If they had any backbone they would stand up for the things that they claim to believe in and in doing so might win some respect back from the electorate...

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    So the Lib/Dems have sold the NHS down the line so they can hang on to power. I've spent most of my life voting for them, never again, The NHS is the best thing that ever happened to this country and Cameron promised to leave it alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    Congratulations to Team Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.
    This country will face challenges, and you have correctly understood that the NHS needs to be reformed.
    You have made sensible proposals for ammendments to the NHS Reform Bill.
    For all our sakes, let's hope the Bill now goes through, and GPs and other NHS employees stand behind the will of Parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    As someone whose life was saved by the NHS recently, I have nothing but praise for the professionalism of the medical and auxiliary staff. My stay in hospital was an eye opener to the dedication of NHS employees. My GP's practice copes admirably in a crowded London borough. I gladly pay my taxes and NI for this. I trust the medical staff who treated me. I do not trust a word of Clegg / Cameron.


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