Health Bill amendments do not go far enough, says Labour

The government has published amendments to the Health Bill which focus on greater patient involvement and increased responsibilities for the health secretary and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

However Labour shadow health minister Baroness Thornton warned that the amendments did not go far enough. ‘It is still a rotten Bill, we still want to get rid of it,’ she said.

Health minister Lord Howe laid out the amendments which aim to address peers' concerns that the Bill reduced the health secretary’s accountability for the NHS.

In order to reinforce the health secretary's accountability the DH has accepted the amendment which read: ‘The secretary of state retains ministerial responsibility to parliament for the provision of the health service in England.’

The government’s amendments also see CCGs taking on more responsibilities.

They establish a clear link between the duty of CCGs to commission services and the secretary of state’s duty to promote a comprehensive health service.

CCGs will have greater responsibilities to promote patient involvement in their own care and to support education and training.

New duties on the health secretary, NHS Commissioning Board and CCGs to report annually on their progress in tackling health inequalities are also created by the amendments.

The role of health regulator Monitor is also addressed by this most recent round of amendments, giving it the power to require healthcare providers to promote integration of NHS services.

Baroness Thornton welcomed the government’s amendments in regards to education and training. However she warned that the amendments did not go far enough in other areas. She also criticised the amendments for adding more bureaucracy to the NHS.

Among the Lords there is concern that the Bill does not call for CCGs to have independently appointed chairs or a board of non-executives, Baroness Thornton said.

‘We still think they don’t address the issue around safeguards on CCGs, there is nothing on good corporate governance.’

The amendments also fail to address peer’s concerns over part three of the Bill – which deals with competition.

‘We regard part three of the Bill as the most toxic part. This is the part Andrew Lansley is most determined to get.’ she said.

Asked whether there was any chance of the Bill being withdrawn, Baroness Thornton said: ‘It won’t happen in the Lords. It will be through action and loud voices outside in the world of the NHS and the general public.’

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