Reforms again under fire as Bill returns to Lords

by IainBate 27. February 2012 11:23

Pharma NHS News The Government’s controversial NHS reforms have again come under increasing attack as Lib Dem peers in the House of Lords are set to launch fresh amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill.

Lib Dem peers have again tabled a series of amendments including plans that allow the Competition Commission powers to review competition and that Foundation Trusts require permission from governors before sanctioning private contracts.

Tim Farron, President of the Lib Dems, has also called for all elements of competition to be scrapped from the legislation – which is set to resume its passage in Lords this week.

The Lib Dem move follows calls from Labour leader Ed Miliband to join forces with his party’s peers to put a halt to the reforms.

Writing in a letter in the Sunday Mirror, Mr Miliband said it was now time to make a stand before it’s too late. “The Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords must join with Labour to hole David Cameron’s health plans below the water line,” he said.

“If they do not the betrayal by the Lib Dems in allowing this bill through will be bigger than the row over university tuition fees.

“They will betray not only the people who rely on today’s NHS, but also generations to come.”

Mr Miliband’s comments followed those of former NHS Chief Executive Lord Crisp who described the reforms as a “mess” and missing the point.

Lord Crisp, speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, said he believed the bill was “unfortunately setting the NHS back”.

“I think the great mistake that the current Government has made – and I can say this as an independent and not a politician – is that this is a terrible confused and confusing bill,” he said.

“It has tried to elevate the ideas of competition and the use of the private sector, which are just mechanics, just mechanisms, as if they were the purpose.”

A DH spokesman played down the on-going criticisms of the reforms insisting the plans will

“harness the expertise of local doctors and nurses, who know better than anyone what their patients need”.

“The proposals promote health in partnership between the NHS and local communities and put local authorities in the driving seat alongside clinicians for improving the health of their communities,” said the spokesman.

“Improving integration between all health and care services is a crucial part of modernising the NHS.”

Lib Dems call for competition amendments

by emma 1. November 2011 13:30

Pharma NHS News

Several Liberal Democrat peers are supporting a number of amendments to the Health Bill focused on the regulation of competition within the NHS.

Several senior Lib Dem peers support the amendments and could force the Government to change aspects of the controversial legislation following concerns the Bill could still extend the application of European competition law to the NHS.

Lord Clement-Jones, a former Lords health spokesman who backs the changes, says the amendments would “balance the competitive powers and the integrating duties”.

More than a dozen amendments have been tabled by Lib Dem peers. They include the constraint of Monitor’s action against anti-competitive behaviour, that private income generated by Foundation Trusts would be used solely for the benefits of NHS patients, and that public interest be considered when the Office of Fair Trading is consider mergers.

Speaking to the HSJ, Lord Clement-Jones said he and his colleagues aimed to “make sure we didn’t fall into having a health service covered by European competition law” and that “we don’t have competition red in tooth and claw across the health service”.

The consideration of the Bill at the committee stage in the House of Lords is set to continue until the New Year.

Burnham returns as head of Labour health team

by emma 7. October 2011 12:55

Andy Burnham

Former Health Secretary Andy Burnham (pictured) has replaced John Healey as shadow Health Secretary as the Party gears up to contest the coalition Government’s NHS reforms.

Burnham’s appointment follows Healey’s resignation in the wake of the decision by the Labour Party Conference to abandon cabinet (and shadow cabinet) elections.

The shadow cabinet reshuffle comes at a time when health policy is seen as a key priority for Labour in opposition.

Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh, was Health Secretary for the last six months of the previous Government, and was formerly Culture Secretary. He is currently shadow Education Secretary.

The Labour Party’s failure to stop the approval of the Health and Safety Bill by the House of Commons leaves it faced with major challenges in opposing an NHS overhaul that Burnham has called “unnecessary”.

John Healey’s resignation and that of shadow Business Secretary John Denham followed the Labour Party Conference’s approval of leader Ed Miliband’s call for the abolition of Party rules regarding shadow cabinet elections.

The new rules mean that the Party leader has personal control over the selection of the shadow cabinet (or in government, the cabinet).

John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne, served as a Local Government Minister and a Housing Minister in the Brown administration.

In his resignation letter to Ed Miliband, Healey stated that family commitments were the reason for his resignation as shadow Health Minister.

The Health and Social Care Bill has been compared to the Poll Tax in its public unpopularity and potential risk for the Government. However, Liberal Democrat support for the revised Bill has left the Labour Party unable to build on the widespread opposition to it among the medical professions.

‘Huge opportunities’ as Health Bill passed in Commons

by emma 8. September 2011 16:52

MB NHS news

The Health and Social Care Bill has been passed for the third and final time in the House of Commons yesterday, after a two-day debate.

The Bill, which secured a majority of 65 votes with only four Liberal Democrat MPs voting against it, now goes on the House of Lords.

A major issue of contention was Health Minister Lord Howe’s statement this week that the NHS reforms mean “huge opportunities” for private health providers.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that the Bill now has the support of GPs and nurses was also challenged by relevant professional bodies.

The Government’s ‘listening exercise’ resulted in changes that toned down the Bill’s emphasis on competition between providers – for example, changing the proposed core duty of Monitor from promoting competition to protecting and promoting “the interests of patients”.

However, claims that these changes represented a major policy shift were challenged by Lord Howe’s statement, made this week to a meeting of private health groups in London, that the new legislation would create “huge opportunities” for them.

“I don’t think it should matter one jot whether a patient is looked after by a hospital or a medical professional from the public, private or charitable sector,” he added.

BMA spokesman Dr Laurence Buckman BMA commented: “Lord Howe's comments betray how deep the government's misguided obsession with competition goes.

“Encouraging private providers in, in this way, to compete against other providers will only make it harder for clinicians to work together effectively – and it's that, not competition, which improves patient care and the cost-effectiveness of the NHS.”

In the course of the Commons debate, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley claimed it was “ludicrous scaremongering” to assert that the Health Bill would lead to NHS privatisation, since the NHS would remain a free service.

However, as critics have pointed out, certain aspects of privatisation are indisputably part of the NHS reform programme. The rationing of NHS services – for example, making cataract and orthopaedic surgery available only in the most severe cases – is already a reality, while increasing the role of the private sector in NHS service provision is a firm aspect of Government policy.

The Commons debate revolved around issues that have remained contentious since the first version of the Bill, including provider competition, the role of the National Commissioning Board, and the question of how patient care will be maintained when ‘failing’ Foundation Trusts go out of business.

The chief concern of the Health and Social Care Bill’s critics in the NHS and Parliament remains that it will destabilise the NHS, with provider competition resulting in progressive privatisation.

David Cameron’s claim that the Bill enjoys the support of “the Royal College of GPs, the physicians, the nurses, people working in the health service” prompted criticism from two relevant professional organisations.

  • Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “At a time when the NHS needs to find £20bn in efficiencies, tackle waste, work harder to prevent ill-health and deal with an ageing population, this bill risks creating a new and expensive bureaucracy and fragmenting care.”
  • Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented: “We are extremely worried that these reforms will lead to an increase in damaging competition, an increase in health inequalities, and to massively increased costs in implementing this new system.”

While it has won a major political battle in its campaign for market-led NHS reforms, the Government still has to gain the support of those clinicians it has repeatedly claimed it wants only to ‘empower’.

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