NHS bill: Lords and MPs debating healthcare shake-up

Controversial plans to overhaul the way the NHS is run in England are again being debated in the Lords, as Labour says the bill can still be stopped.

Peers are examining the Health and Social Care Bill and there will be a Labour-led NHS debate in the Commons.

Labour says it will support a motion by rebel Lib Dem MPs calling for the bill to be dropped.

But health minister Simon Burns told the BBC he was “very confident” it would become law by the spring.

The legislation is now coming to the end of its report stage in the Lords and is expected to become law within weeks.

While peers debate the legislation, MPs will be asked to vote on Labour’s motion: “That this House: notes the e-petition signed by 170,000 people calling on the government to drop the health and social care bill; and declines to support the bill in its current form.”

Rebel amendment

Five Lib Dem backbenchers, Andrew George, John Pugh, Adrian Sanders, Greg Mulholland and David Ward have put forward their own amendment which “declines to support the Bill in its current form” and calls for an “urgent summit” of government, health and patients’ groups to plan reforms “based on the coalition agreement”.

Labour sources have told the BBC the party will back the amendment, to try to bolster Lib Dem opposition and build a cross-party alliance to defeat the Bill, ahead of its final reading in the Commons next week.

“Start Quote

This damaging bill could be through Parliament in a week’s time. But yes, we can still stop this bill.”

Andy Burnham Shadow Health Secretary

The bill gives GPs and other clinicians much more responsibility for spending the NHS budget in England and encourages greater competition with the private sector and charities.

The government says changes are needed to make the NHS more efficient and better equipped to deal with challenges such as an ageing population and the rising costs of new drugs and treatments.

But many groups representing medical professionals have come out against the plans and Labour say such a huge reorganisation should not be forced on the NHS when it is under intense financial pressure.

Risk register

At the Lib Dem spring conference in Gateshead at the weekend, a vote on “killing” the bill altogether was avoided – in favour of a debate on a more pro-reform motion in the name of Baroness Williams. However activists voted to remove a line calling for Lib Dem peers to back the bill’s final stages.

 Lib Dems voted to back Baroness Williams’ motion but removed a crucial line

Last week the government lost a Freedom of Information case and was told to publish a risk assessment of the plans, drawn up in autumn 2010, before the bill was introduced in Parliament.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham told the BBC the two developments showed the bill was “in crisis” and said the Lib Dem vote offered a “new opportunity to develop an agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats”.

Crossbench peer Lord Owen has put down his own amendment, saying the bill should not get its Third Reading, until the risk register is published – Mr Burnham said he believed that could be a “serious threat” to the legislation.

He said: “Time is running out for the NHS. This damaging bill could be through Parliament in a week’s time. But yes, we can still stop this bill.”

‘Improved bill’

The government says it is awaiting the full FOI ruling about the risk assessment, before it decides on its next steps.

Conservative health minister Simon Burns told the BBC he believed there was “no need for further changes” to the “strengthened and improved” bill – having already consulted Lib Dems, crossbenchers and some Labour peers – and said it should be allowed through to give “stability” to the NHS.

He said he was “very confident” the bill would be law by the spring and accused Lord Owen of tabling a “wrecking amendment”.

“We can’t afford more destabilising and delays in the bill simply because Lord Owen and the Labour Party don’t support the proposals.”

Lib Dem peer Lord Clement-Jones said Lib Dem activists found it hard to understand the progress made on the bill in the House of Lords and said Lib Dem peers would carry on supporting the Bill.

Meanwhile the Royal College of GPs, which opposes the bill, has indicated it is willing to work with the government on implementing the changes.

Plaid Cymru’s health spokesman at Westminster, MP Hywel Williams, said that the bill – which applies to England – would have “significant effects” on Welsh patients.

He said specialist NHS services in England, used by Welsh patients, would be under threat and longer term funding problems could arise – because there could be a cut in Wales’s funding under the Barnett formula, if health spending in England were to fall.

He said: “The funding formula for Wales must be changed so that Welsh patients don’t pay the penalty for English politicians’ decisions.”



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