Lord Owen calls for halt to Health Bill until risk register release

By Abi Rimmer, 16 March 2012

The Lords must halt Health Bill discussions until a decision on the publication of the NHS reform risk register has been reached, a crossbench peer has said.

Crossbench peer Lord Owen has tabled an amendment to health minister Lord Howe’s motion to open the third reading of the Bill in the Lords on Monday.

The amendment will change Lord Howe’s motion calling for the Bill to be read for a third time, to: ‘The Bill be not read a third time until either the House has had an opportunity to consider the detailed reasons for the first-tier tribunal decision that the transitional risk register be disclosed and the government’s response thereto, or until the last practical opportunity which would allow the Bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation – the end closing of parliament.’

Earlier this month a tribunal ordered the government to publish the NHS transitional risk register. However Lord Howe said the government could not release the register until it had seen the full details on the tribunal’s decision.

Lord Owen argued that the Bill should not be passed until peers had discussed the tribunal’s decision.

Therefore he said it was important that peers were prepared to delay discussions for a few weeks in order to respect the Freedom of Information Act and the two decisions taken over the register.

Lord Owen argued that there was time for the full decision to be published, for the government to reply and for the Bill to become law before the end of the parliamentary session.

Lord Owen said: ‘I believe, and many others do too, that the risks of going ahead with this Bill are greater than the risk of stopping.’

Health researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Dr Lucy Reynolds analysed the Health Bill combined impact assessments published in 2011.

Dr Reynolds used the assessments to estimate the types and levels of risk the Bill would create in the NHS. Risks include system failure due to GPs lacking the time and relevant skills to commission, and fixed budgets forcing GPs to ration services and explain it to patients.

She said: ‘The refusal to publish the transitional risk register may aim to conceal the imminent change from a NHS that treats according to medical need and protects against unaffordable medical bills, to an inferior one which commercialises care and exposes patients to financial risk.’

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