Nick de Bois is MP for Enfield North
When it comes to the NHS, there is certainly consensus on one thing: leaving the NHS as it is just isn't an option. Doing nothing will let down front line doctors and nurses and patients alike. It also does a disservice to taxpayers. A system over 50 years old needs to be updated for modern times and modern health problems. That is why Ministers should press ahead with their proposed reforms, and win the battle against those who are calling for them to be watered down.
It's important to bear in mind that despite spending similar levels of money on health care as other European countries, our health outcomes aren't meeting European averages. It's a stark truth that in the UK you're twice as likely to die from a heart attack as in France. So it's not a case of spending a lot more – it's a case of spending better. That's why our plans to cut bureaucracy (by abolishing Primary Care Trusts) to save £1.7bn a year are so important.
The easy route forward is to allow the reforms to be slowly nibbled away at, until bit-by-bit hardly anything is left of them. A concession here, a clarification there will collectively neuter these reforms.
But that cannot be the nature of this Coalition. In so many areas, we are taking the hard but right route in sorting out the problems we have inherited from Labour – social fracture; fiscal irresponsibility, and a higher education system that fails to prepare young people for the world of work. We are not ducking the tough choices in those areas, and we should not duck them in the NHS either.
In many ways it is a meeting of minds around the need to solve problems rather than a forced marriage of two antagonistic groups. We are at our best when we embrace that common purpose and hold our nerve. Poll ratings show that the public trust us over Labour to take the hard decisions on the economy – we should trust our instincts that we are doing the right thing for the long term viability of the NHS too.
I absolutely accept that we have to explain our plans and reassure the public throughout this process. We also need to show why the vested interests that attack us have far from altruistic motives. But providing reassurance is not the same as providing unlimited concessions. We have moved on maximum pricing, and I suspect there is room for manoeuvre in increasing further public accountability and transparency. Incidentally let's not forget this bill enshrines proper democratic accountability for the first time as it presently stands. These are progressive moves, entirely different from unpacking this reforming Bill.
If Ministers feel they lack supporters, then they should look behind them. Across the backbenches there is a strong desire to support our Ministerial colleagues and see this process through.
So let's press on and do the right thing.