by Paul Goodman
This morning's reports of Andrew Lansley's Commons statement yesterday haven't missed that he was unsupported in the Chamber by the presence of senior Cabinet colleagues. (The Prime Minister was en route to Pakistan.)
What some may have missed is the strong support given to the Health Secretary by Conservative backbenchers. Some it, clearly, had been organised in an operation by the Whips – but not all. By my count, Lansley received ten questions specifically supportive of his plans –
"Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As the Secretary of State may know, I still have a faint link with the NHS and medicine in general. The GPs I have met in my constituency and elsewhere are very much in favour of the proposals. In contrast, the complaints are circular letters that have been well organised. Does the Secretary of State agree that GPs will be devastated if there is any reversal and backtracking?
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's efforts in modernising the NHS. The concept of GP commissioning has been widely supported by politicians from all parties for many years. May I urge my right hon. Friend to keep putting patients first by increasing GP involvement in the NHS?
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Colleagues on this side of the House will know that the Secretary of State has a great passion for the health service, and great mastery of his brief. Will he confirm, for the sake of all hon. Members, that the object of getting rid of PCTs and top-down targets is to free a lot of money for patient care? That should be in the interests of all hon. Members and their constituents.
Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that many GPs are very excited by the opportunity that his reforms will give them to serve the needs of their local communities even better. Can he assure those GPs that he has no plans to water down that strengthening of their pivotal role in the national health service?
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the most cynical people could criticise him for wanting to consult more about the changes that he wants? [ Laughter. ] And that only the most cynical could treat the NHS as a laughing matter? Will he maintain the goal of delivering the prize, which is to give local people, through their local GPs, more control over the resources that the NHS spends in their name?
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): Excessive bureaucracy and a record level of managers have dominated health care provision in mid-Essex. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that, under his reforms, the funding for that excess will go to front-line patient care in the constituency of Witham?
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My constituents in Suffolk were very concerned at the last election about the fact that only two doctors covered them for out-of-hours care, and that was for 600,000 patients. They welcome the reforms in the Bill. Indeed, Waveney and Great Yarmouth have come together as one pathfinder consortium and resumed out-of-hours care. Will the Secretary of State assure me that such important changes will continue to be important for patient delivery in the new Bill?
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): GPs in Oxfordshire want to be catalysts for change. Collectively and collegiately, they want to be able to design NHS services for the best and optimal benefit of the people of Oxfordshire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this statement means that they can continue to design those services and continue to plan to have an Oxfordshire-wide GP consortium, knowing that they will be able to go forward in the future to plan the best health services for the people of Oxfordshire?
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on engaging and listening. We have all received the 50 or so e-mail circulars from constituents who are concerned, but that does not reflect the evidence on the ground. GPs in Shipston in my constituency are absolutely passionate about the reforms and want to engage fully with them, as do 220 other groups-87% of the country. May I make a suggestion to the Secretary of State? Perhaps we should bring all those people who are passionate about this reform and want to take party politics out of it together with Labour Members on a platform so that we can take this forward without petty politics derailing a brilliant piece of legislation.
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): In east Cheshire, there is no lament for the passing of the PCTs. In fact, there is a positive response to GPs having a greater say in how health care is delivered locally. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how GPs will be updated on progress over the coming weeks?"
While only two questions from the Health Secretary's own side specifically welcomed the pause he announced –
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The Secretary of State will be keen to know that many of the GPs I have met in my constituency are keen on the idea of GP commissioning, but there is undoubtedly concern about the exact role of the private sector in the NHS. May I urge the Secretary of State to use these next few weeks or months to ensure that in the country and if necessary in the Bill we make it perfectly clear that the private sector will not be allowed to undercut or undermine our local hospitals?
Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful and useful update this afternoon, and welcome his assurances that the coalition wants to reform and modernise our NHS, right in line with its founding principles. He knows that I will continue to argue for greater transparency for the new GP consortia, and I hope we can still find a way to do that, but I warmly welcome his listening exercise, the measures contained in the Bill and the way he has made himself freely available to colleagues since taking up his post last year. May I urge him to continue doing that both in the House and, of course, outside it?
I've not counted general expressions of support for the Government, MPs who raised constituency points, or attacks on Labour – of which Margot James (Stourbridge) offered a very sharp example –
The Leader of the Opposition stated his willingness to work with the Government on the NHS reforms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a good place for him to start would be with a re-reading of his party's manifesto at the last election, which supported virtually every principle in our NHS Bill, with one important difference-it was without the additional funding to match?"