What Lib Dem members think about the NHS Bill: 57% opposed, but majority might back it if significantly amended

by Stephen Tall on March 8, 2012

We’ve been surveying the views of current Lib Dem members this week on your views on the NHS Bill. Over 500 responded, and here’s what you told us…

  • A majority of Lib Dem members – and a majority of Lib Dem members who will be voting delegates at the party’s spring conference at NewcastleGateshead this weekend – oppose the Coalition Government’s NHS reforms as they currently stand. By 57% to 32%, Lib Dem members reject the Health & Social Care Bill.
  • However, that does not automatically mean the Lib Dem conference will vote to ‘Kill the Bill’ if there is a vote for three reasons:
      1. First, opinion is more evenly split on the principle of GP commissioning replacing PCTs, another major part of the Bill. Among all members it’s opposed by a narrow margin, 46%-45%, but among Lib Dem conference delegates, there is a slight but significant shift in its favour, 50%-41%.

      2. Secondly, and most importantly, on the controversial Chapter 3 – the part of the Bill which deals with competition in the NHS – Lib Dem members might be persuaded to support the Bill if there are changes. 32% of party members (including 37% of conference delegates) would support the Bill if Chapter 3 is significantly amended to include safeguards designed to prioritise patient care over profits. Together with those who support the Bill as it is, and who are unlikely to drop their support if Chapter 3 is amended, Lib Dem members would then support the Bill 49%-39%; among conference delegates the margin would be a little greater, 53%-38%.

      3. Thirdly, Shirley Williams’ influence at conference could be pivotal. Our survey suggests she is by far the most trusted senior Lib Dem figure when it comes to the NHS, with a net satisfaction rating of +57% on this issue. If Baroness Williams swings her full weight behind amending Chapter 3 and then supporting the Bill, the Lib Dem conference is likely to listen very carefully. By contrast, both Nick Clegg and Paul Burstow, the Lib Dem minister in the health office, have negative satisfaction ratings among party members on this issue.

  • Regardless of their personal views on the NHS Bill, party members are pessimistic about the impact on the Lib Dems’ electoral chances. Almost three-quarters, 72%, think the party will be damaged as a result, and 42% of that group think the Lib Dems will be ‘seriously damaged’.
  • Here are the full survey results:

    The government’s proposed reforms of the National Heath Service are currently going through Parliament. From what you have seen or heard about them, do you support or oppose the Coalition government’s NHS reforms as they currently stand?

      Strongly Support 5%
      Support 27%
      Total Support = 32%
      Oppose 30%
      Strongly Oppose 27%
      Total Oppose = 57%
      Don’t know / No opinion 12%

    The government plans to restructure the NHS so that instead of services being run by local primary care trusts, they will be run by consortiums made up of local doctors. From what you have seen or heard about this policy, do you support or oppose it?

      Strongly Support 8%
      Support 37%
      Total Support = 45%
      Oppose 27%
      Strongly Oppose 19%
      Total Oppose = 46%
      Don’t know / No opinion 9%

    One of the most controversial parts of the Health and Social Care Bill relates to Chapter 3 on competition. Its supporters say Chapter 3 will improve patient choice, and should be retained in its current format. Its opponents, however, say Chapter 3 will result in profit being put before patients. Some Chapter 3 opponents propose it should, therefore, be dropped in its entirely. Other Chapter 3 opponents propose that it should instead be significantly amended because they want to retain those parts which seek to ‘plug the holes’ left by Labour’s 2006 Health Act. Which of these statements comes closest to your view:

      17% – I support retaining Chapter 3 as it stands and support the Bill
      9% – I oppose Chapter 3 and think it should be dropped in its entirety – I would then support the Bill
      32% – I oppose Chapter 3 but think it should be retained if it can be significantly amended – I would then support the Bill
      30% – I would not support the Bill even if Chapter 3 is dropped or amended
      8% – Don’t know / No opinion

    Irrespective of whether you support or oppose the Bill, what do you think will be the most likely electoral impact on the Lib Dems if it is passed in some form with the party’s support:

      42% – It will badly damage the Lib Dems and will be a major vote-loser for the party at the next general election
      30% – It will damage the Lib Dems but is unlikely to be a major vote-loser for the party at the next general election
      17% – There will be little or no damage to the party
      8% – It will help the Lib Dems a little at the next general election but is unlikely to be a major vote-winner for the party at the next general election
      0% – It will substantially help the Lib Dems at the next general election and will be a major vote-winner for the party at the next general election
      3% – Don’t know / No opinion

    How would you rate the performances of the following leading Liberal Democrats specifically on the issue of the NHS reform bill?

    • Paul Burstow MP, Minster of State for Care Services
    • Very satisfied 6%
      Satisfied 20%
      Total Satisfied 26%
      Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 38%
      Dissatisfied 22%
      Very dissatisfied 14%
      Total Dissatisfied 36%
      Net Satisfaction -10% -15%

    • Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister
    • Very satisfied 8%
      Satisfied 27%
      Total Satisfied 35%
      Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 16%
      Dissatisfied 29%
      Very dissatisfied 20%
      Total Dissatisfied 49%
      Net Satisfaction -14%

    • Baroness (Shirley) Williams, Liberal Democrat peer
    • Very satisfied 28%
      Satisfied 42%
      Total Satisfied 70%
      Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 14%
      Dissatisfied 12%
      Very dissatisfied 4%
      Total Dissatisfied 16%
      Net Satisfaction +54%

    • John Pugh MP, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Health and Social Care

    • Very satisfied 10%
      Satisfied 22%
      Total Satisfied 32%
      Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 54%
      Dissatisfied 10%
      Very dissatisfied 5%
      Total Dissatisfied 15%
      Net Satisfaction +17%

    • Baroness (Judith) Jolly, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Health and Social Care
    • Very satisfied 5%
      Satisfied 18%
      Total Satisfied 23%
      Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 62%
      Dissatisfied 10%
      Very dissatisfied 5%
      Total Dissatisfied 15%
      Net Satisfaction +8%

    • Over 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 507 responded to the latest survey, of whom 147 said they are registered and able to vote at this weekend’s party conference in NewcastleGateshead. The survey was conducted between 4th and 8th March.
    • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
    • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.