Leeching off the NHS

Article published: Tuesday, September 13th 2011

Withington Liberal Democrat MP John Leech’s decision to vote in favour of the government’s controversial Health and Social Care Bill last week must have raised eyebrows among his constituents, considering his equally controversial history of healthcare campaigns.

John Leech MP

The Bill, dubbed by many as “the end of the NHS as we know it”, has been denounced for effectively privatising the NHS. It passed through the Commons despite vocal opposition from the public and medical professionals and a complete lack of a mandate from either the Tories or the Liberal Democrats, neither of whom pledged to reform the NHS before the 2010 election. Indeed, David Cameron even promised there would be “no top-down reorganisations of the NHS”, an evident lie all the more excruciating since he cited the care his child received from NHS staff prior to his son’s death in 2008 as a reason why he would never touch it.

Leech is no less equivocal. Soon after his election in 2005 he found himself in hot water after focussing his election campaign on claims that the Christie, Manchester’s specialist cancer hospital, was in danger of being closed following a review, a claim he later repeated in his maiden speech to parliament. The head of Manchester’s Health Service stated that this was not the case and less than two months after his election it was revealed that the hospital was safe. A Lib Dem Councillor and one of Leech’s closest allies left the party one year later, calling the campaign “dishonest” and “scaremongering”.

At the time, Leech claimed that 60 doctors at the hospital signed a petition protesting against any planned closure. The text of the petition actually circulated did not claim that the hospital could or would be closed, even though Lib Dem election literature (not always noted for its veracity) claimed this was a possibility.

Funnily enough, 60 members of staff at the Christie are now being sacked as part of the funding cuts to the region’s medical services. On top of this 150 staff are being sent to work for a private company, HCA International, who will be opening a new private centre at the hospital. Not for nothing have the corporations swimming around the corpse of the NHS threateningly requested “a free hand with staff”, presumably because so many health workers across the country are opposed to the privatisation.

Leech’s only attempt to address the issue has been to point out that the Labour administration was hardly any better: “If the private sector involvement in the National Health Service is privatisation, it was Labour who privatised it.” Private sector involvement in the National Health Service is privatisation. Labour did privatise it. That soundbite was nowhere near as clever as Leech thought it was. As with the last government, his party’s hands are covered in blood.

Given this apparent inconsistency, could the principles that saw him rebel against his own party and their aristocratic seducers last December during the tuition fees debate actually be nonexistent, with an insincere, cynical pragmatism nesting in their place? His long history of campaigning on healthcare issues would suggest not. This May he attacked £31 million of waste in the care of people with muscle-wasting diseases who had to have emergency care rather than long-term specialist treatment, in June he had tea and strawberries with Geri Halliwell in support of a breast cancer charity, and this month he called on Health Committee Chair Councillor Eddy Newman to resign following the closure of Withington Walk-in Centre.

John Leech, Geri Halliwell and some strawberries.

But as the head of the BMA pointed out, wealthy foreign nationals with heart conditions are going to be prioritised in the new-look NHS over people unfortunate enough to possess less economically viable illnesses. The poor in cities such as Manchester, which already has in parts the lowest life expectancy in England and Wales, will suffer as access to the best quality of care becomes more readily available for the rich. Doctors have warned that the service risks a return to the 1930s, while others have openly advocated resistance to the reform’s implementation.

Leech consciously crafts himself as a campaigner for public health and defender of the region’s hospitals but thanks to him, and to Parliament, his constituents who live in Old Moat will have very different healthcare provision than those who live in Didsbury. If he thought his tuition fees rebellion could hide the nature of his character, then he was wrong. As with his namesake, he has no backbone.

Tom Fox

More: Manchester, News, Opinion


  1. Tom Fox – I notice that this article has no quotes from John Leech to yourself, so I can only assume you didn’t get in contact with him before running this article.

    You don’t appear to confront the central issue – the actual workings of the Health and Social Care bill, and whether or not it would be a good thing for Manchester NHS.

    You state that the NHS was “privatised” under Labour, and this bill continues in that vein, but you fail to justify that statement (are we suddenly going to be charged by a private corporation for our health services now?), or indeed criticise how the previous and current government reforms over the NHS has harmed it at all.

    I for one support the H&SC bill as I believe it will save, rather than destroy, the NHS by making it more efficient, accountable and productive.

    If the bill succeeds in its aims, it will allow enough choice and competition within the NHS to drive down costs whilst maintaining high health outcomes. It will also put into the hands of processional clinicians (Drs, Nurses etc) the ability to set the strategic path of their local NHS bodies.

    Instead of constructing a well thought out critique of the bill, and John’s support for it, your article simply dances around a 6 year old smear, constructed by Labour opponents of John Leech, over his successful campaign to prevent the break up of cancer services at the world class Christie hospital.

    I appreciate you’re not a professional journalist and only a volunteer, but if you want your future labours to bear fruit, you could consider doing some primary research for your articles (maybe getting in touch with John Leech and asking him *why* he voted the way he did?), rather than rely on 2nd hand Labour hack theory which is lazily reproduced here in all it’s inaccurate and venomous glory.

    Comment by Councillor Martin Eakins on September 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm
  2. Councillor Martin Eakins: I see you’re from the ward where I grew up, Good Luck with that. People are frustrated that Lib Dems keep voting FOR Tory policies. The country wanted a hung parliament with the LibDems providing a balance to the Tories and all we’ve got are Nodding Liberals. I think Tom Fox is just echoing how we all feel tbh.


    Comment by CM on September 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm
  3. CM,

    On balance and voting pattern – 75% of our manifesto is in the coalition agreement, a higher % of the Conservative manifesto, so if anything the Conservatives keep voting for our policies more than the other way round, which seems to be balanced in our favour especially given we have less than 10% of the MPs in parliament.

    Tom Fox echoes what the Manchester Labour party feels, rather than the truth. If he’d bothered to talk to John before writing this article, he would have produced the balance Manchester Mule’s readers deserve to read.

    Comment by Councillor Martin Eakins on September 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm
  4. Councillor Martin Eakins: Statistics are a politicians best friend & neither the left or the right wing papers are having a LibDem Love-in. Either all the media is against the the LibDems, or the they need to stop being wheeled out in front of the media by Tories to break the bad news every time a horrible new Tory policy is implemented. I shall leave this to others/Tom Fox to comment further if they so wish. As I final note I would suggest it is not just Labour who is causing all this as you seem to imply. The Tories must have a good chuckle every time a LibDem is seen on TV saying “Fandabidozie” to all their Thatcherite-on-steroids Policies.


    Comment by CM on September 14, 2011 at 11:45 am
  5. Yet another article which seems to regard the NHS’s main job being to provide amenable employement for its staff.

    Doctors and other NHS staff have done extremely well from the money poured into the NHS in New Labour’s irresponsible spending binge – much better than patients who have seen little if any improvement in return for all the extra money they’ve poured in. It’s hardly surprising these staff are keen for things to continue much as they are.

    I welcome private companies providing services to the NHS. If they don’t come up to scratch they can be given the boot and a new provider hires. This is called accountability, and it is exactly the lack of accountability in our public services which has resulted in them being the expensive, complacent, arrogant and mediocre concerns they are today.

    Comment by simon on September 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm
  6. Councillor Martin Eakins’ party failed to convince the Manchester electorate of the honesty and integrity of the Lib Dems’ political arguments – which is why they were completely wiped out in the May elections.

    To brag that ‘75% of our (Lib Dem) manifesto is in the coalition agreement’ concurs the widespread political perception that the Lib Dems have become ‘yellow Tories’.

    Eakins ignores the opinions of those health care professionals he claims he the Bill will enpower – all of them oppose the Tory Health Care Bill.

    At the recent conference in Manchester private health care providers were lining up to get their hands on those parts of the NHS that they can make a profit out of.

    Comment by Mark Krantz on September 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm
  7. AH Mark Krantz, looney lefty, would rather see complacent Labour in power in Manchester than anyone else. Any reason why you proper socialists don’t ever run full slates of candidates at local elections? I know – you’re scared, cowards who won’t run in elections because of the pastings you get. Nobody is interested in your outdated ideology. Get back to shouting through loudspeakers pointlessly, nobody is listening.

    Comment by Bob on September 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm
  8. Chickens coming home to roost for Labour’s “legacy” on the NHS.

    NHS IT to be scrapped at cost of 12.7 billion wasted £££


    NHS faces 65 BILLION POUND mortgage over PFI


    Thanks Labour! Anyone care to defend this?!

    Comment by Bob on September 22, 2011 at 10:55 am
  9. Good article Tom.

    I for one am fed up with standardised letters from John Leech that keep trying to justify this so called Health Bill on the basis of the creeping privatisation measures brought in by the previous Labour administration – as if we critics can somehow be assumed to support that equally anti-working class government.

    The whole debate has been run around the simplistic ‘private sector market based provision versus big bureacratic state provision’ but to my mind neither of these approaches are without serious faults.

    Still, whatever faults there are with the NHS, this bill -including the muddled amendments the libdems are so proud of – will only make things worse.

    Comment by Mike on September 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm
  10. I am appalled by the inaccurate, personal attack on me by your writer Tom Fox.
    The article is riddled with factual inaccuracies. Firstly, Tom asserts that medical staff at the Christie back in 2005 were not fearful of the hospital’s future, when they went on the record as saying that. The Christie put out a statement saying: “When the review started our medical staff committee organised a petition which raised concerns about one of the possible outcomes of the review.
    “This statement detailed how the doctors felt services should best be organised for patients and flagged up concerns about the dislocation of any cancer services from the Christie Hospital.” Dr Nick Slevin, chairman of that committee, told the local press: “We had concerns that services at the Christie could be broken up and moved.”
    The writer then asserts that no political party promised reform to the NHS. All three parties’ 2010 manifestos said that reform was needed. The Labour manifesto, for instance, said “to safeguard the NHS in tougher fiscal times, we need sustained reform” that would include giving patients a right to choose to be treated by a private hospital.
    The Tories, meanwhile, said they would put GPs in charge of healthcare provision and my party, the Lib Dems, promised to improve care by giving local people a greater say in how their NHS services are run.
    The fact that many of us are living longer means the NHS will see more and more people with chronic conditions such as heart failure, dementia, arthritis, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. This means that even with an extra £11bn is going into the NHS over this parliament, the NHS needs to make the available funds work harder.
    The NHS professionals agree that changes are necessary. The author only mentions the BMA and no other organisation. Not the Royal College of Surgeons, which “welcomes the principle of the modernisation of health and social care to place commissioning decisions close to the patient, helping to ensure appropriate delivery of services that meet the needs of patients and local communities”.
    Nor the NHS Confederation, which commented: “The Government has shown that it has listened to the NHS on its reform plans and has responded positively to what the NHS wanted.” And not the Royal College of Nurses, which has said: “During the Government’s listening exercise, many of our concerns have been taken on board. The Government is absolutely right to say that nurses must be fully involved in commissioning.”
    He also attacks me for not standing up for the NHS. But my colleagues in the Lib Dems and I have fought for, and won, major changes to the reforms. We have taken these concerns up with ministers and voted for a re-think at our conference in March.
    With the changes, the reforms will be good for the NHS. But don’t take my word for it. The Labour-leaning columnist Polly Toynbee said in the spring that the Lib Dem changes “would tighten, not loosen, the unity of the NHS, encourage co-operation more than competition, put accountability before the market”.
    Lastly, he insults health professionals and managers when he says that they would want to prioritise wealthy foreign patients over the poorest. Even if they wanted to, and they don’t, thanks to these reforms, they would not be allowed to. There’s a new duty on the NHS to reduce health inequality, which scandalously was allowed to increase during the boom years. This is an important safeguard on the use of income from private patients.
    To not introduce reforms as the writer argues would leave in place the system the last Government saddled us with: one where NHS hospitals are undermined by predatory pricing, price competition, corporations cherry-picking the easiest work and unfair subsidies to the private sector.
    The reforms will limit competition, not increase it. No longer will private companies be able to undercut the NHS hospitals, unfairly depriving them of income, but will be paid exactly the same. We’ll have a new, powerful regulator who will be charged with putting patients first who can rule when co-operation is more important, like when we need specialist healthcare services to be put together in regional centres. And clinicians, patients and councillors will all get a say in how NHS money is spent. So if they think we need more cooperation, and less competition, then that’s what we will get.
    Under the last Government, primary care trusts were allowed to privatise GP clinics, walk-in-centres and even themselves. With the reforms, the clinical consortia to replace the PCTs will be banned from letting private firms do their work. They will also have a duty to consult councillors and residents and publish in full all contracts.
    To not introduce reforms would leave in place a more cut-throat system. With competition introduced into the NHS, reforms are necessary to ensure fairer and more equitable rules to police this. The Lib Dems cannot sit idly by, given our rising healthcare needs, with the free-for-all system introduced by Labour.
    I’m not complacent, but the ministers promised yet more changes in the Commons last week to make sure we get this right, and I know that my Lib Dem colleagues in the Lords including Shirley Williams will hold them to these promises.
    Finally several of the comments in the article are simply lies and libellous.

    Comment by John Leech MP on September 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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