The View From the House of Lords

Lord David Owen


You have introduced the NHS Re-instatement Bill. Why?


The Health and Social Care Act 2012 moves away from the Secretary of State for Health a legal duty to provide or secure health services. These have been taken out with the specific objective of removing the legal obligation to provide healthcare.  This removes democratic accountability for the NHS.  The fundamental thing is to restore the powers in the way they have been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The new NHS Commissioning Board is going to be the largest quango ever created.  This from the coalition that says it’s getting rid of quangos.


Wouldn’t your Bill create yet another reorganisation?


I am trying to avoid further major reorganisation.  There are eight clauses in this emergency Bill, which would restore powers and do it without upheaval.


So you are concerned at the use of the private sector by the NHS?


The NHS is unique.  It’s not just another utility like water or gas.  Healthcare is infinite.  It is perfectly possible to provide water for everyone who wants it.  It is the same with gas and electricity.  But it’s not the same with health.  Demand is not exactly infinite, but it is possible to spend much more than we actually do spend on it.  When in 1974 I was health minister, I openly admitted we had a rationalised system of health care.  We have to be grown up about this and admit it and do it openly and fairly.  Once you move away from that democratic basis, I think many doctors will admit they will have a different relationship with patients.  Why else has the NHS been the most popular public service for so many decades?  Broadly speaking, the evidence is that our healthcare system is very effective.


What have you done since leaving politics?


After being a peace negotiator in the Balkans, I became a businessman. I was chairman of Yukos International, Russia’s biggest oil company, and was on the board of Abbott Laboratories, a healthcare business.




Lord Owen qualified as a doctor of medicine.

He was health minister from 1974 to 1976

He was Foreign Secretary from 1976 to 1979

He was a founder member and leader of the SDP





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