Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Paul Burstow’s Mental Health and Social Care

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd September, 2011

Since the tuition fees debacle, the one policy area that has been giving Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government most grief has been the whole area of Health Service reforms. Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Secretary of State, unveiled a set of radical proposals which were not in the Coalition agreement and which sent alarm bells ringing among LibDems, not least members of the Social Liberal Forum, who led a successful revolt at the Party’s 2011 spring conference. That then strengthened the hand of LibDem MPs and even Ministers to force a significant rethink, especially of those concepts which seemed to imply a degree of competitive tendering in the free market which  opponents were able to portray as privatisation by the back door. Anyway, the Bill in its revised form is much less scary, according to the man who ought to know: the LibDem junior Health Minister, Paul Burstow, who was guest speaker at a lasagne and poilitics event at Orpington Liberal Club this evening. Paul stressed that the new policies the Government wishes to bring in will help integrate health and social services, will end the Cinderella status of mental health (which is a cause Nick Clegg has been promoting personally) and addresses the elephant in the room, i.e. how to fund future long-term care for an increasingly geriatric population. Paul accepted the point made by one party member this evening that the British Medical Association has opposed many of the proposed reforms, but he rightly countered that the BMA has a record of opposing change, including the original establishment of the NHS. LibDems have reason to be proud of what the Party has achieved in government, he said — a refrain that is increasingly being heard from LibDem Ministers, but it is worth repeating, especially when it is backed up by the evidence shown by comparing what was in the LibDem 2010 Manifesto and how much of that is now government policy.



One Response to “Paul Burstow’s Mental Health and Social Care”

  1. I’m sorry Jonathan, but you’ve really mis-read the merits of this legislation, as I’m afraid has Paul. This is not to detract from the outstanding work Paul’s done on mental health, nor is it meant to deny that the Bill’s better for having been changed by Lib Dems in Parliament.

    As Paul and I discussed in Hackney (at yet another of their excellent garden parties!) earlier in the year, significant changes to the Bill were needed in order to make it palatable for Lib Dems – or at least for the mainstream within our party. We called for those changes at Spring conference, and yet despite the efforts of Paul to bring them about the flurry of amendments haven’t improved the Bill sufficiently.

    There remain significant concerns surrounding the Secretary of State’s role in the NHS, the opening up of service provision to competition and private profit, and the effect of these reforms on democratic accountability and training that expressly have not been addressed. Without further changes to the Bill therefore – which thankfully Andrew George MP has tabled – this Bill remains largely unacceptable to our party – a failure to recognise that would be catastrophic for the party and the NHS.

    Conference hasn’t been given the chance to fully debate these reforms but it’s hoped this can be changes, for even if you support the Bill as it stands it’s crucial that we debate our party’s position out in the open.

    This isn’t about vested interests opposing reform – it’s the nature of the reforms themselves that are at fault. Failing to secure the support of front-line staff has been the problem all along, the government choosing instead to violate the Coalition Agreement and impose a top-down reorganisation on the NHS at a time of severe budgetary constraint.

    It isn’t good enough to say ‘we tweaked a Tory Bill,’ if it isn’t good legislation we must not support it.

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