Health Bill could be delayed until Spring 2012

The NHS reforms could be delayed by as much as six months, after the deputy Prime Minister said the amended Health Bill will need to be sent back to in the House of Commons for further scrutiny.

Mr Clegg: 'It is very important that MPs, who represent millions of patients, have the opportunity to really look at the details that we are proposing'
Mr Clegg: 'It is very important that MPs, who represent millions of patients, have the opportunity to really look at the details that we are proposing'

Nick Clegg said that once the listening exercise had been completed, the amended Bill would need to be 'recommitted' to the House of Commons for further scrutiny by MPs.

He said: ‘I don't think it would be right for us to hold this listening exercise - to make big changes to the legislation - and then to seek to bounce it through parliament. It is very important that MPs, who represent millions of patients up and down the country, have the opportunity to really look at the details that we are proposing.

‘I think we will need to send the bill back to committee. I have always said that it is best to take our time to get it right rather than move too fast and risk getting the details wrong.’

The reforms could now be delayed by up to six months. The listening exercise has already added two months to the expected timeframe and the Bill previously took four months to progress through the House of Commons. The Bill will then still have to progress through the House of Lords before becoming law.

Mr Clegg also said the health service would not be turned into a ‘competition-driven dog-eat-dog market where the NHS is flogged off the highest bidder’. He said the main duty of NHS regulator Monitor would not be to push competition ‘above all else’ and that private companies would not be able to cherry-pick NHS services.

Mr Clegg also suggested there will be a flexible timetable for the reforms, adding 'arbitrary deadlines are no good to any one'.

He said the government would not ‘sweep away tiers of NHS management overnight’ and said NHS managers would carry on doing the commissioning in areas where GPs aren’t yet ready.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said he welcomed signs that the government is recognising the profession's concerns. But he added: 'The real evidence of their commitment to listen will not come until we learn more about their plans for the Bill.’

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar also said Mr Clegg's speech signalled that the listening exercise is beginning to move in the right direction.

He said: 'Both the overall narrative and policy content appear to reflect the views we have put forward. I am cautiously optimistic we can get to something that is more grounded and practical. 

'We have to get these reforms right and we need to ensure they have a proper political mandate.  But the government must also have an eye to how long the legislative process will take.  The NHS is under enormous pressure and we need the clarity quickly in order to make it easier for the NHS to deliver financial stability and high quality services for patients.'

Ahead of Mr Clegg's speech, shadow health minister John Healey told GP the Bill would have to start from 'square one' if sent back to the House of Commons and would not become legislation before the end of the year, as the government had originally planned.

‘The Health Bill should have been in the House of Lords by now, but they have made such a mess of the legislation plans over the last year the Prime Minister has been forced to call this "pause",' he said. ‘The timetable for the legislation has been knocked off track. Who knows what they are going to do.’

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