Fresh concessions over NHS reforms

NHS reforms remain critical
NHS reforms remain critical

By Alex Stevenson

The Department of Health has made a series of further concessions in a bid to rescue its embattled NHS reforms, but opponents appear unimpressed by the changes.

Labour called on the government to drop the health and social care bill completely after health minister Earl Howe tabled 137 amendments yesterday evening.

The issue of the health secretary's accountability for the NHS is being put "beyond doubt", duties to involve patients more in the commissioning process are being strengthened and regulator Monitor is being tasked with promoting the integration of NHS services.

"We have been carefully listening to the ideas raised as the bill has progressed through parliament," health secretary Andrew Lansley said yesterday evening.

"And as a result we have tabled a series of amendments to address these remaining issues."

The bill will begin its report stage in the Lords next week, over a year after it was first introduced to the Commons.

Yesterday's changes follow massive changes to the bill after an unprecedented 'listening pause' last spring halted the reforms' progress through the Commons.

"These minor amendments do not go to the heart of peoples' concerns and do not change what this bill is - a privatisation plan for our NHS," shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said.

"This will only serve to further complicate an already confused bill that has lost all credibility. It is a dog's breakfast, a mess of the government's making."

Last week the royal medical colleges came close to uniting in outright opposition to the bill, but the Royal College of Surgeons prevented unity by saying it wanted to continue to improve the reforms.

Despite that setback for opponents, the Royal College of Radiologists and the College of Emergency Medicine have said they cannot support the bill in its current form. The Royal College of Physicians has called an extraordinary general meeting for later this month.

Yesterday in PMQs David Cameron applied a quote from former prime minister Tony Blair, who said that "the opposition is inevitable, but rarely is it unbeatable", to the ongoing row over reforms to the NHS.

He told MPs: "There are tens of thousands of general practitioners up and down the country who are implementing our reforms because they want decisions to be made by doctors, not bureaucrats, they want to see health and social care brought together and they want to put the patient in the driving seat.

"If you are trying to bring into a public service choice, competition, transparency, proper results and publication of results, you will always find that there will be objections."

But Mr Miliband told the PM that the reforms were a "disaster".

"There were rumours last week that he was considering dropping the bill," the leader of the opposition said.

"He has a choice: he can carry on regardless or he can listen to the public and the professions."


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