After a certain degree of criticism last year around the time of the European elections, much of it fair, over some of our policies related to healthcare it was decided to conduct a full review of the relevant section of our, recently renamed, Policies for a Sustainable Society document. Jim and Stuart have blogged on this already but I’ll maybe go into a little more detail – in fact most people can skip the next two paragraphs.

(Procedural Stuff – Probably Boring)
The way this works is the whole section is submitted to conference under a separate section in the agenda and amendments are taken to alter, subtract from or add to it. Each amendment is debated separately, normally, before the whole section, as amended is voted on at the end. If the final vote falls, or isn’t reached due to time constraints, the whole section falls and we remain with what we had before.

This might not seem like an issue but with only 80 minutes originally scheduled to debate the motion and 29 amendments I was really worried at the start of conference that we might succeed in amending the necessary parts of policy only to see our efforts wasted at the last minute. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, debate was extended into an extra session on Sunday and we got through all 29. To digress for a second, however, I think this is a serious issue, in a conference that lasted over 3 full days we had only around six and a half hours of debate on the health policy paper, organisational and policy motions, emergency motions and reports. We ended conference having failed to even discuss 10 out of the 20 policy motions.

(Back to Policy – Hopefully Less Boring)
To get back to the health paper though, what did we actually pass then? Well, a lot of good policy I think. We now have a much more rational and scientifically defensible section. One I would no longer be embarrassed to show to my non-green party friends (actually most of my green friends thought it was pretty awful too to be honest).

Number one on my list of priorities was amendment 28, which removed our opposition to embryonic stem cell research. I can’t begin to describe how pleased I am that passed and how ridiculous it was that we ever opposed it in the first place. As fellow Bright Greener Adam said as he proposed the policy (Stuart, who had been proposer couldn’t make the last session on Sunday) it was a cruel and inhumane position that put us in alignment with the Bush administration in postponing developments that could lead to huge advances in medical research and treatments. I don’t know the circumstances under which we first adopted the original policy but I was pleased to see that the new policy was easily carried in the end.

Number two was homoeopathy and the numerous references to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) the old section contained. I think I’m right in saying that what we passed this weekend no longer mentions homoeopathy once. One might suggest we should have gone further to actively oppose it (and I might agree with you) but two other new sections of policy probably make that unnecessary. Firstly, all medicines, real or CAM, would have to clearly state their ingredients and side effects and, secondly, all treatments would have to prove their efficacy under independent clinical tests to be provided by the NHS.

I think the proposers were clever here, rather than explicitly attacking CAM and risking a fight that could have jeopardised passing the motion, or having the time to finish it at all, they removed all specific details from the policy and set up a framework which anyone who believes in homoeopathy should support but which, in reality, would prevent most CAM from receiving any funding. Unless, of course, they can show their treatments work, in which case we’ll have no problem with them.

One problem I do still have with Green Party policy, and one I’m sad to say I don’t have high hopes of sorting soon, is on animal testing. I wrote a bit about this the other day but it reappeared on Sunday. In the health section, we made some progress. Amendment 11 removed the line “vivisection is of questionable value and incompatible with ecological philosophy”, whatever ecological philosophy means. Amendment 14 added a new paragraph proposing a review would be carried out to compare animal testing with “human biology-based tests” to “determine the best means to predict the safety and effectiveness of medicines and treatments for patients”. That sounds fine to me, and indeed, was accepted by most of the animal rights enthusiasts, convinced as most of them are that animal testing is scientifically inferior to other methods. I wonder though what would happen if that review said animal testing was best given our policy elsewhere?

Speaking of which, C09 and C10, having not been referred back for further work, came back immediately after we passed health. Unfortunately, Jim’s proposal that the animal rights section would be the appropriate place to list an ethical objection but that scientific concerns were already covered in the health section fell, mostly, on deaf ears and his motion fell. Commiserations Jim. Under party rules I believe that means we can’t try that approach again for two years. Removing our opposition entirely, however, that’s another matter.