Corbyn calls for Parliamentary debate before Cornwall Council takes over NHS – as council leader dodges questions about whether councillors will get a vote
8th December 2017
By Graham Smith
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has added his voice to calls for a delay to Cornwall Council’s ambition to take over the National Health Service.
Senior council officials are pushing for the creation of an Accountable Care Organisation and want the council’s cabinet to vote in favour of the measure on 7th February. The officials, led by chief executive Kate Kennally, want the ACO as part of Cornwall’s 2015 Devolution Deal – and are promoting it as “breaking free” of Whitehall control.
An ACO would allow County Hall to decide which health services to commission, set its own priorities, and to manage its own budget. The officials have still not said what will happen if the cash runs out before the end of the financial year.
There are growing signs that the council’s Liberal Democrat-led administration will seek to defer a decision to the full council meeting, a week after the cabinet meeting. The primary purpose of the ACO is to cut £277 million from Cornwall’s health budget. Several Lib Dem councillors have told Cornwall Reports they fear being blamed for closing community hospitals if the ACO goes ahead.
On BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday (Thursday) council leader Adam Paynter repeatedly refused to confirm an assurance given by his predecessor, that the council would not endorse an ACO without a full council debate. He told Laurence Reed that a decision on allowing a council debate, and vote, depended on the contents of a report to be produced by a six-councillor inquiry panel. “It depends what that report says,” said Mr Paynter, “but at the moment it is due to go to the cabinet in February.”
Mr Paynter also refused to rule out the closure of community hospitals. “It’s about services, not buildings,” he said. “But I’d need to be certain that the service was there before I agreed to any hospital closure.” Some senior Liberal Democrats fear they are caught “between a rock and a hard place” and that they may have to face a messy confrontation with Ms Kennally if the 7th February cabinet meeting fails to set up an ACO in line with her timetable.
But now Labour’s front bench spokesman on health, MP Jon Ashworth, has introduced an Early Day Motion into Parliament calling for a debate at Westminster. Mr Corbyn is among the sponsors. The bill says:
“ That this House notes the Department of Health consultation on Accountable Care Organisations which closed on 3 November 2017, which proposes changes to regulations required to facilitate the operation of an NHS Standard Contract (Accountable Care Models); further notes that the consultation states that the Government proposes to lay these regulations before Parliament in the New Year with the intention that they have legal effect from February 2018, subject to Parliamentary process;
notes that these changes will have far reaching implications for commissioning in the NHS, and that concerns have been raised that Accountable Care Organisations will encourage and facilitate further private sector involvement in the NHS, and about how the new organisations will be accountable to the public; notes that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 opened up NHS commissioning to private sector interests; notes that the NHS is experiencing the largest financial squeeze in its history and there are concerns that Accountable Care Organisations could be used as a vehicle for greater rationing of treatment locally; and calls on the Government to provide parliamentary time for hon. Members to debate and vote on these proposed changes on the floor of the House.”
Many people are unaware of the dramatic changes which ACOs will bring. Labour says it is vital that MPs be allowed to debate and vote on what the party says are “secret” plans for the NHS – which they claim could lead to greater rationing of care and privatisation. A number of health campaigners have launched Judicial Review proceedings, claiming the way ACOs are being introduced is unconstitutional.
Labour says ministers are trying to push through the creation of “accountable care organisations” (ACOs) without proper Parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr Ashworth has now written to Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, urging her not to let “the biggest change to our NHS in a decade” go ahead without MPs’ involvement.
NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, and the government see ACOs as central to far-reaching modernisation plans that they hope will improve patient care, reduce pressure on hospitals and help the NHS stick to its budget.
The Department of Health said: “It is right that local NHS leaders and clinicians have the autonomy to decide the best solutions to improve care for the patients they know best – but significant local changes must always be subject to public consultation and due legal process.
“It is important to note that ACOs have nothing to do with funding – the NHS will always remain free at the point of use.”