Whatever happened to free speech?

The Tory propoganda machine has been at it again – hushing up dissent to the, by now, pretty much universally-hated Health and Social Care Bill.

It seems Health Minister Andrew Lansley and his departmental colleagues have been on the blower to members of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. One presumes from the outcome that this was to assure them that releasing a statement opposing the Bill in its current form would be bad for their health.

The statement read as follows: “The medical royal colleges and faculties of the academy continue to have significant concerns over a number of aspects of the health bill and are disappointed that more progress has not been made in directly addressing the issues we have raised.

“The academy and medical royal colleges are not able to support the bill as it currently stands.

“Unless the proposals are modified the academy believes the bill may widen rather than lessen health inequalities and that unnecessary competition will undermine the provision of high quality integrated care to patients.”

The provisional plan had been to publish the statement late on Wednesday morning, ahead of Prime Minister’s questions.

But ministers led by Mr Lansley, along with senior officials, telephoned the presidents of the colleges ahead of its release, asking them to reconsider. We’re told the statement could have had a potentially devastating effect on the government’s plans.

Now it lies unused – another example of the methods Mr Lansley uses to stifle opposition to his unreasonable plan to privatise parts of the National Health Service and put taxpayers’ money into private operators’ offshore tax-haven bank accounts (as has been previously proved).

Remember the ‘risk report’ on the potential harm that would be caused to the health service if the Health and Social Care Bill becomes law? No? That’s because Mr Lansley still hasn’t published it, months after he was ordered to do so by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

The Commissioner found the department twice broke the law by refusing to accede to two separate requests under the Freedom of Information Act to see the assessment. The Department of Health has appealed against these rulings; if the appeal falls, then its officials, and Mr Lansley, are criminals.

The BBC reported this story yesterday and the ‘comment’ column it provided instantly threw up a series of intriguing tangents.

One person, claiming to be a member of one of the colleges, stated that they voted on Wednesday, at an extraordinary general meeting, to come out in direct opposition to the Bill. The colleges’ leaders, by preventing them from doing so and not accepting that vote, were playing political games, in that person’s opinion.

Another commenter told us a decision against the Bill could still be made. It seems their daughter, a trainee public health consultant, was unable to attend the meeting at which the statement was discussed. She has been informed that her faculty is balloting all its members by post, according to its constitution and, if this is true, the results of the vote will not be known for another fortnight.

A third stated that the royal colleges had been intending to speak up to protect patients, from a position of specialist knowledge and understanding, but had been swayed from protecting patients and the NHS to protecting the government after Mr Lansley and/or his colleagues contacted them.

Back we go to the famous comment by Albert Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Like many others, I think the public needs to know what was said in those last-minute phone calls.

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