“I’ve got a simple question for the Prime Minister – can he now give the house a list of significant health organisations who are still wholehearted supporters of the Bill?”
Labour leader Ed Miliband, Prime Minister’s Questions, 29 February 2011
As David Cameron himself rued today, it has been four weeks in row of NHS questions from Ed Miliband.
Amid the bitter debate, both sides of the House have taunted each other – reeling off names of high profile support or opposition for the Bill and slinging out statistics at high speed.
Well it’s time for a check-up. Who’s behind the Bill, and who’s against it? FactCheck does a roll call.
The Labour leader picked off a great list of industry organisations that he said have “come out against this bill” in recent weeks.
We asked all of them what their official line on the Bill is.
The Royal College of General Practitioners: opposed
David Cameron claimed: “Let me give him the actual figures. There are 44,000 members of the Royal College of GPs. Out of a total of 44,000 just 7 per cent responded opposing the bill…”
As a body, the RCGP called on the Prime Minister to withdraw the Health Bill on 3 February. Though Mr Cameron got his figures right, there’s some jiggery pokery with the figures here.
Firstly there was no official ballot. To say that 7 per cent are against the Bill, implies that 93 per cent were for it. This isn’t true. The numbers Mr Cameron quotes refers to a snapshot survey that the RCGP emailed to its 44,000 members over Christmas – 7 per cent of the members responded; and of those 98 per cent were opposed to the Bill.
Royal College of Physicians: neither for or against
The RCP held an Extraordinary General Meeting on Monday at which 79 per cent of those attending voted to ballot fellows on whether to withdraw support for the Bill. A spokesman told FactCheck that a strong opinion either way will be taken extremely seriously by the council. Until then, the College remains neither for nor against the Bill. However, the spokesman said that it has “serious concerns” about elements of the bill and has secured a “fair few” amendments already from engaging with the government.
British Geriatric Society: opposed
The BGS called on government to withdraw the Bill on Monday 27 February after informal discussions with their 2,481 members – which include 1,300 consultants.
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: opposed
The RCPCH called on government to withdraw the Bill on 23 February after holding a vote – 14.5 per cent of its members turned out for the vote or 1,492 – with 79 per cent calling for “outright withdrawal” of the Bill rather than to continue to push for amendments.
The Royal College of Nursing: opposed
The RCN called for the health bill to be dropped on 20 January after a discussion of its council. The move has not been opposed by its members.
The Royal College of Midwives: opposed
The RCM called for the government to scrap the Bill on 19 January, calling it a “massively expensive distraction from the challenges that the NHS faces”. The decision to oppose the Bill was an executive management call in line with the opinions of its 40,000 members.
The Royal College of Radiologists: oppose the bill in its current form
The RCR opposed the Bill “in its current form” on 27 January, and told FactCheck today that it held an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 16 February during which it tabled a motion to publically call for a withdrawal of the Bill. Of around 50 fellows who attended, 36 were in favour; 10 against and three abstained. The RCR is now carrying out a survey of their 8,900 members – the results due in a few days at which point the RCR will update its position.
The Faculty of Public Health: opposed
The FPH called on government to withdraw the bill on 8 February after holding an EGM at the end of January. The group told FactCheck that the majority of 200 attendees “wanted us to change our position”. Meanwhile, of the FPH’s 3,300 members, 40 per cent took part in a survey – and three quarters of those called on FPH to demand the complete withdrawal of the Health Bill.
Royal College of Physiotherapy: opposed
Mr Cameron claimed that opposition from the RCP was minimal. He said: “And what about the Royal College of Physiotherapists – 50,000 (members) – 2 per cent (opposed)…”
Again, there’s some massaging of the physiotherapy figures here – the RCP also withdrew its support for the Bill on 3 February. What Mr Cameron is referring to is an online opinion poll the RCP did in May last year – 1,175 of the 50,000 members took part in the poll and of that 81 per cent opposed the reforms.
Phil Gray, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, told FactCheck: “David Cameron can quote as many figures out of context as he likes but cannot escape the central fact that his government’s proposals are almost universally opposed by professionals in the NHS.
“Like other professional bodies, we have lobbied for more than a year in parliament to get the Government to amend the Health Bill, which seriously threatens the future of the NHS, but they refused to make any significant changes.”
The Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (part of Unite): opposed
The CPHVA, which has 18,200 members (20 per cent of Unite’s Health Sector members) called for the Bill to be withdrawn on 8 February.
The Patients’ Association: opposes the bill in its current form
The PA has never come out and said the Bill should be scrapped – but it does argue that it “needs to be rewritten”. The PA is against many of the reforms and the way they are being implicated, which it believes could have “serious ramifications”. It is heavily involved in the listening exercise with its 5,000 e-members.
Mr Cameron brushed off Mr Miliband’s attack with his own list – of five supporters of the Bill. We’ve checked these out too.
Spokesman Dr Charles Alessi from National Association of Primary Care confirmed that his organisation, a long-time champion of the move to clinical commissioning, was indeed a supporter of the reform.
The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations website says: “ACEVO has not taken a position on the controversial health bill as a whole.”
A spokesman for the NHS Alliance told FactCheck it is supporting the bill, with qualifications: “We are supporting the clinical commissioning and CCGs, but the environment needs to be right. There are aspects of the Bill that need to be looked into. It’s not as black-and-white as people would like to think.”
The Foundation Trust Network also supports it with qualifications, telling us that the organisation “supports all aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill that will bring benefits to patients”. But the FTN warned in a statement: “The devil is now in the detail of how bits of the new system interact…unless public providers of NHS services have the flexibility they need to manage risks inherent in a system in flux, they will be ‘sitting ducks’ for failure.”
We asked the Labour peer Lord Darzi if he supported the Bill, and his spokesman replied: “no comment”.
Of the “significant health organisations” mentioned by both Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, opinion is weighted against the passing of the Bill.
Eight fully oppose the Bill, two are against it in its current form and three more are unwilling to take sides.
It’s also worth noting that the British Medical Association (BMA), the only doctor’s union with 150,000 members, was not mentioned by either politician. It called for the withdrawal of the Bill back in November 2011 on the basis that it is “deeply flawed”.
Of the four Mr Cameron claimed to be in support of the reforms, only the National Association of Primary Care does so without significant reservations.
As for NHS staff, only 9 per cent of them want to see the Bill passed, according to a YouGov poll last month – 65 per cent of those polled said it should be withdrawn.
With just one of Mr Cameron’s health organisations offering its “wholehearted support” for the Bill, FactCheck expects temperatures to continue to rise in this debate.
By Emma Thelwell and Patrick Worrall