‘We gather to dismantle the NHS’

By Alex Stevenson

Triumphant ministers are presiding over the final legislative stages of the health and social care bill – a process the opposition claims represents the last rites of the NHS.

Shadow secretary of state Andy Burnham is delaying the bill's passage into law by 90 minutes by holding an emergency debate on the Department of Health's refusal to publish the risk register.

"The truth is members will go through the lobbies tonight without knowing the full implications [of the reforms]," he told MPs. "How can they justify that to their constituents?"

Outside parliament desperate protesters are demonstrating against the reforms, which opponents claim will introduce sweeping reforms imposing a market dynamic on the provision of healthcare services, causing fragmentation and undermining the health service.

"The Tories are determined to push it through despite the fact that this will add the NHS into our already 'divided Britain'," Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis told the crowd earlier.

"It is a scandal that they are ignoring the groundswell of opposition from medical experts, royal colleges, staff, unions and the public."

Conservative and Liberal Democrats in government were in exultant mood earlier. The prime minister's spokesperson said Cabinet ministers indulged in some "cross-party banging" of the table during this morning's meeting.

The health and social care bill is expected to clear the Commons by the end of the evening, meaning it will receive royal assent – and become an Act of Parliament – before parliament rises for Easter next Tuesday.

In deputy prime minister's questions earlier, Labour MP Julie Hilling quoted Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron saying that the bill had gone from "appalling" to "pointless" in the last 12 months.

Responding to her suggestion that the Lib Dems had gone from being "pointless" to "appalling" in the same period, Nick Clegg said: "We have an increasingly large, ageing population with an increasingly large number of people with chronic conditions who spend much more time in hospital than has ever been the case.

"That is why it is right to give people like doctors and nurses who know patients best greater authority about how our healthcare system works. That remains the key reform in this bill."