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Archbishop speaks up for NHS in Health and Social Care Bill debate

Thursday 13th October 2011

The Archbishop of York spoke in the Health and Social Care Bill debate yesterday, and voted for the Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy amendment in support of the NHS. The Archbishop's contribution from the House of Lords follows...

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, let me declare an interest in this Bill as a previous patient of the National Health Service. In 2008, suffering salmonella as soon as I arrived from overseas, I was treated for nine days at University College London. I received excellent treatment. It was co-ordinated and first rate. In May 2011, at St Thomas’s Hospital, I was admitted and stayed for 12 days for the removal of a rather nasty appendix. I was looked after well, it was well co-ordinated and wonderful. In August this year, at York Teaching Hospital, I was treated for repairing my rotator cuff and removing my uvular because it was affecting my throat. It was fantastic and well co-ordinated.


All three hospitals are teaching hospitals. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: will this Bill raise and improve the standards in our teaching hospitals? I am doubtful because if you are a teaching hospital it means that sometimes things may be delayed and may not happen so quickly. They have to work hard. Will it improve the teaching hospitals of our country? I am doubtful.


My Archiepiscopal colleague, the most reverend Primate of all England, Dr Williams, in the New States ma n on 9 June in a speech on education said:


“With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context”.


A number of noble Lords have repeated the same view: that the Bill has no mandate. It was not in the manifesto. It will not do simply to repeat the statement that it was in the coalition agreement. Joe and Jane public did not vote on it. That is why there is anxiety in the nation and that is why there is a lot of worry about it. Therefore, the Government would be wise to persuade the public, the professionals and most of all the staff of the NHS that it is in their interest.


The best way of doing that is to allow proper scrutiny of the areas that have caused the greatest anxiety. From listening this morning, I think that the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, does that. The area of anxiety that it addresses is the extent to which the Secretary of State is still responsible, and it allows parliamentary counsel to help in the scrutiny of that particular part.


The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, agrees with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol that the role of the Secretary of State is a foundation issue. The Secretary of State has responsibility for the health of the nation. He said that since this is a foundation question, we had better deal with it quickly. But will time allow us properly to examine the foundation and secure that the foundation is good? It does not seem to me that in the short time available we will do that. Time will run out and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that this will not improve the National Health Service. It may do other things but health is somewhere else.

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