MPs back government concessions on hospital reconfiguration clause

Government amendments to the Care Bill intended to allay fears about hospital closures have been backed by MPs, after support for the measures from the BMA.

Parliament: MPs back amendment to Care Bill reconfiguration clause
Parliament: MPs back amendment to Care Bill reconfiguration clause

Changes to clause 118 of the bill will now ensure NHS staff affected by reconfiguration at neighbouring hospitals would be properly consulted.

Campaigners have warned that the clause would give new powers to special administrators appointed to overhaul struggling NHS trusts, allowing them to recommend changes to services outside of the geographic area they are assigned to.

A judicial review backed by local GPs last year ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt did not have the powers to reconfigure Lewisham hospital, a move recommended by administrators appointed to oversee the the neighbouring debt-laden South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

Campaigners fear clause 118 would remove protections used to overturn the closure of Lewisham hospital.

But the bill committee yesterday voted for government amendments to clause 118, which the BMA said would ensure all health staff affected by trust special administrator (TSA) reconfiguration would be consulted. Labour members opposed 118 entirely. Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said the clause was ‘the government’s reaction to an incredibly telling and significant defeat in the courts’.

‘Its purpose,' he said, ‘is to extend the ability of TSAs to close, remove or reconfigure hospital services in perfectly good, high-performing hospitals, such as Lewisham, which are adjacent to hospitals in difficulty.’

Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter said: ‘Clause 118, as amended by the government, would mean the health secretary must decide whether he is satisfied that all affected trusts, their staff and commissioners have been properly consulted and their views considered.’

Ahead of the debate, BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said it was right for ministers to take on board concerns that the legislation would have paved the way for backdoor reconfiguration without consideration for local or clinical needs.

‘We’ve called for changes to put this right. These amendments are a step in the right direction in making sure that staff and managers at neighbouring trusts affected by a TSA recommendation in the future will be properly consulted and their responses considered.’

He added: ‘It must be recognised that the impact of a trust special administrator investigation on neighbouring trusts affects not only clinicians but can also lead to patient uncertainty, huge cost to the taxpayer and have long-term negative consequences for proper planning of local healthcare services.’

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