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Do we need a cross-party commission on the NHS?



YES

We need the NHS to stop being a political football; a tool for parties to use as leverage against each other. That’s why I believe we need an independent commission to produce a sustainable, evidence based plan for the NHS – to give it the funding and planning it needs, rather than just being made up as we go along, at the whim of whoever happens to be in power.

A commission is a group of people appointed by the Government to investigate a matter of important public concern. It’s absolutely key that the Government should be bound by the recommendations of a commission and that such a commission has input from all people who have a stake in the health service: patients, staff, experts, think-tanks, royal colleges and charities all need a say in how the NHS should be funded. One single group cannot and should not presume to know best, nor dictate to the others how it should be run.

That’s why this commission also needs to be cross-party. We need politicians from across the spectrum to back it, and to agree to be bound by its conclusions. Importantly, an independent and cross party commission would make recommendations based on objective evidence rather than political agenda or manifesto promises, as opposed to select committees which are composed of a majority of partisan politicians. Furthermore, a commission would be composed of (and not just take the advice of) members of the public, charities, royal colleges and think-tanks, providing a broader spectrum of expertise and an arguably more objective approach.

I know there is scepticism about a commission because it could simply further politicians’ interests and agendas – surprise surprise, they’re politicians, and the fact that people don’t trust them is hardly breaking news. But politicians run the country, and if we’re to give our health service a future we’re going to need them to buy into the idea. They need to all have a stake in it, otherwise they’ll just blame each other and the whole thing will collapse into a diluted soup of hot air and compromise.

I also hear concerns that a commission is part of some evil master plan to privatise the NHS. I don’t think this is true, parties each have their own red lines – which is exactly why I see safety in a cross-party approach. I believe in a free-at-the-point-of-need health service, which is again why I support a commission. The NHS is already haemorrhaging staff – a third of GPs are planning to retire in the next five years, a fifth of GP registrars are planning to emigrate, and recruitment figures continue to drop. The promise of gaining 5,000 more GPs by the next election is laughable.

Something has to change, drastically and a cross-party commission might just be the way to save the NHS.

Dr Matt Mayer is a GP in Buckinghamshire, and is a member of GP Survival and NHS Survival

NO

A cross-party commission would give the Government an excuse to bring in a raft of privatisation measures.

A look at the backers of this cross-party commission demonstrates its nature: Steven Dorrell, Conservative MP, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb and Alan Milburn, former New Labour health secretary have had links to privatisation schemes. Can it be wise to trust this tainted ‘all-party’ trio with the future of the NHS?

Genuine NHS defenders, such as Keep our NHS Public and National Health Action party leaders, see the danger and have strongly rejected a commission.

In a letter with over 400 signatories, we have stated that ‘The bill’s apparent aim is to take a neutral stance on the NHS and aim for cross party consensus. In the current political climate and with these champions for its cause we feel this is far more likely to be a move towards validating calls for charges and co-payments, which the Government dare not propose directly itself.’

Our letter also stated that ‘no party has clean hands’ in what has happened to the NHS over the past few years, with ‘crippling Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt, handing over public buildings to private developers, endangering staff and patients through unsafe and unfair contracts, downgrading medical training standards and allowing American health insurance industry ethics to be ingrained in our NHS culture.’

Campaigners therefore expect a commission to recommend the next wave of the privatisation’s ‘zombie policies’, the imposition of user charges and top-up insurance which betray the heart of what the NHS stands for.

Complicit media reporting reinforces the privatisation lobby’s position, with constant claims the NHS is ‘unsustainable’, despite being ranked as the best value for money health system in the world.

Should a sensible recommendation appear amongst the commission’s proposals, it would either be ignored or used as a figleaf to maintain the deception.

To save the NHS from corporate takeover, we must instead renationalise it immediately, removing all the costly market bureaucracy and the dangerous practice of profiteering from our NHS.

Dr Bob Gill is a GP in Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @drbobgill and he appears in the film Sell-Off which explains NHS privatisation