Over the past year the Health and Social Care Bill has eaten up vast numbers of column inches in newspapers and occupied enormous amounts of air-time on radio and television. Some of the coverage has been informed, but much has been scaremongering about the death or privatisation of the NHS.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll try and lay out why I think it really matters, because I appreciate that health is a very important issue for everyone.
Firstly, we should recognise that this is not the Health Bill, it’s the Health and Social Care Bill.
We face a crisis in care in the developed world and the UK is no exception.
With life expectancy constantly increasing, we have an ever-rising number of older people in the country.
This, in turn, creates a real problem between the provision of care and the provision of health services. Far too often, older people end up in hospital when they didn’t need to be there in the first place.
This opens up a whole can of worms about the cost, bed blocking, their dignity and treatment.
Now there are great examples of the NHS and social care providers working together, but far too often they don’t and the person in the middle suffers.
We can do much better than this and the Bill, for the first time, takes steps to ensure that the NHS takes a wider view of what health means across the board.
In my view this is an absolutely crucial change.
If we are to get the best value out of the enormous sums we put into the NHS, we must try to ensure that many more people don’t need to enter the acute care system in the first place.
So what about the ‘health’ part of the Bill?
It seems pretty intuitive to me that if we allow the professionals to get together and decide how their patients are treated by the NHS rather than Whitehall bureaucrats, we shall end up with more choice and services better tailored to patients’ needs.
I think this is a Bill that will lead to a better health service and better health outcomes for all.
And please, let there be no mistake.
At its heart is the same free-to-all NHS provision protected by law and, for all the rhetoric, with more safeguards in place against private competition than before.