9. February 2012 11:22
The Government has lost the first vote on the Health and Social Care Bill after the legislation returned to the House of Lords.
Peers backed an amendment that mental health is made a higher priority under the reforms by a margin of just four votes.
Earlier in the day, during Prime Minister’s questions, Labour leader Ed Milliband called the Bill a “complete disaster”.
Other amendments on the powers and responsibilities of the health secretary were also discussed by peers – although none were voted on. But peers did accept a Government-backed amendment specifying that the health secretary retains “ministerial responsibility to Parliament for the provision of the health service in England”.
Cross bench peers also raised additional amendments to those proposed recently by the Government which are to be discussed in coming weeks.
Ana Nicholls, Healthcare Analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit says the defeat is not a major blow to the Government. “This appears to [be] only a preliminary setback for the reforms, with the main debate over competition in the NHS not expected until March,” she said.
“Still, it adds to the pressure on the Government over the reforms, following as it does on the back of several medical bodies made their opposition clear. Clearly there will be a rough few weeks ahead. Nevertheless, it will be difficult at this stage to call a halt to the reforms, given that the reorganisation already taking place amid the primary care trusts and strategic health authorities.”
The Faculty of Public Health became the latest healthcare body to call for the withdrawal of the Bill – hours after the Institute of Healthcare Management made a similar unprecedented call.