Today the most important vote on the NHS since its inception takes place. After a ‘pause for reflection’ the Health and Social Care Bill returns to Parliament for its third reading. It remains unchanged in substance despite the protests of the BMA, the RCN and various other medical and political bodies. If it is passed, the duty of the health secretary to provide healthcare will be abolished and the NHS will be handed over to private companies to commission healthcare as they see fit, together with an annual budget of £80 billion. It will be the end of the NHS.

This is not a policy that has been sprung on us suddenly by David Cameron. Since the early 90′s, the NHS has gradually been taken over by private concerns.The buying up of primary care services, particularly GP practices was permitted and it is this that has led us to the present situation. If GP commissioning is passed then effectively the companies that own the GP practices, will be deciding what healthcare services are provided. As they also provide many of the services that they commission, it means that they can be both purchaser and provider in many areas. This built in abuse means that this bill is the precise opposite of what it is deemed to be. It is the gifiting of a blank cheque to private companies, guaranteed by public largesse, because the NHS is too large to fail.

Although this bill is for England, it will severely affect us in Scotland if it gets passed. As those who are disabled and chronically ill get turned away by the new profit based services in England, they will look north to where those services are still available. Scotland will find itself in the invidious position of either allowing them to come north for treatment and risk our services getting swamped, or turning away some of the sickest and most vulnerable in our society. There is a third choice, and that is for all of our Scottish MPs to turn up today and vote against this iniquitous bill. The NHS is not the property of government or private companies – it is our NHS.