MPs back bill to repeal coalition health reforms

The House of Commons has backed a bill to repeal parts of the coalition government's health and social care reforms.

Westminster: MPs back Health and Social Care Act overhaul (Photo: Robin Hammond)

MPs voted by 241 to 18 in favour of the private member’s bill moved by MP Clive Efford (Lab, Eltham and Plumstead) at the second reading.

Mr Efford said he was ‘delighted’ the Commons, which was almost empty of Conservative members, had voted for his bill. It now moves to the committee stage. As a private member's bill it is unlikely to pass into law without significant support from the government parties.

The bill aims to repeal section 75 rules requiring tendering for NHS services, exempt the health service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal - which critics fear could undermine the health service - and would hand back responsibility for the NHS to the health secretary.

Backing for private bill

The NHS (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill is backed by the Labour party, health unions, the 38 Degrees campaign group, and former health secretary Lord David Owen.

GPs are divided. Chairwoman of Tower Hamlets LMC and Unite/MPU representative on the GPC Dr Jackie Applebee addressed a rally in support of the bill outside parliament earlier.

She welcomed the bill's direction of travel and its recognition of the damaging elements of the 2012 act. She called on GPs to support it, but added: ‘It is only a start and does not go nearly far enough.'

‘Importantly it does not properly restore the duty of the secretary of state to provide a comprehensive and universal health care system across England, nor does it abolish the damaging and costly purchaser/provider split,' she said.

The only hope, said Dr Applebee, was for a complete repeal of the Health and Social Care Act. ‘This is what people who value the NHS must continue to fight tooth and nail for.’

Public debate sparked

GPC and BMA council member and Keep Our NHS Public campaigner Dr David Wrigley, who also supports the bill, said it had opened up a public debate over NHS privatisation. 

‘If the bill passed it would free up time for CCGs to focus on developing general practice rather than administering the cumbersome market driven tendering process.’

‘However,' he added, ‘I fear the Tories and Liberal Democrats will not support the bill, therefore it will fall.’

The BMA has given qualified support to the bill, as a ‘positive step towards removing some of the worst elements of the act’, in particular the over emphasis on competition over integration.

A BMA spokesman said: ‘We support the bill’s intention to reverse the decision to remove final accountability for the NHS from the health secretary, making it clear that the government must retain ultimate responsibility for the provision of a comprehensive health service. NHS England and CCGs must, however, have day-to-day operational independence.’

But in a letter to The Telegraph, a group of senior doctors, including GPs, called the bill ‘misguided and potentially disruptive’.

Backwards step

The letter signed by Devon GP and NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon, South Eastern Hampshire CCG chairwoman Dr Barbara Rushton, and medical secretary of Mid-Mersey LMC Dr Ivan Camphor, said the bill would be a ‘backwards step for patient care, reorganising the NHS in a top-down way at a time when it needs to be looking ahead’.

The suggestion that GP commissioners had a ‘privatisation agenda’ was is an ‘ill-informed attack on the clinical leadership which improves services’, they said.

Mr Efford said: ‘Now we need to pressure the government to make sure that they take the bill straight to committee and do not use delay tactics to try to stall its passage through parliament. 

‘We have seen the impact that the Tories' privatisation agenda has had on our NHS – longer waiting times, fewer frontline staff and £3 billion wasted on a pointless top-down reorganisation – and the Liberal Democrats have gone along with it.

‘It is simple, we will not stand for this and my bill just signals the start. A Labour government would repeal the toxic Health and Social Care Act and ensure that we put patients back where they belong – at the heart of our NHS.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC earlier: ‘This bill is another example of Labour putting politics before patients, seeking to frighten people who rely on the NHS with phony privatisation claims.

‘But the British public won't be fooled by scaremongering from the party that opened the NHS up to private provision.

‘They know the real debate in health is not public versus private, but good care versus poor care, and Labour have yet to answer to the patients and families who suffered in the failing hospitals that they swept under the carpet.’

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