Price competition still possible, warn Labour

The Health Bill still paves the way for price competition in the NHS despite the government's recent amendments to the legislation, say Labour MPs.

Mr Healey: concerns about the Health Bill
Mr Healey: concerns about the Health Bill

Shadow health secretary John Healey said an increasing number of Liberal Democrat and even Conservative MPs were concerned about the Bill. The Bill still paves the way for a ‘full-blown market’ in the NHS and makes it easier for hospitals to be closed without consultation, said Mr Healey.

‘Many Tory MPs are concerned as these changes were supposed to help stop their local hospitals being closed – it’s the opposite,’ he said.

Earlier in March health secretary Andrew Lansley agreed to change the sections of the Health Bill which would make it possible for providers to bid for contracts at a price below the standard NHS tariff.

Shadow health minister Liz Kendall, said there was ‘huge confusion’ around how NHS tariffs would be set, despite recent amendments to rule out price competition.

She said the introduction of a competitive market and EU competition law was still ‘fundamental to the Bill.'

‘At least 82 of the 280 clauses in this bill are about changing the way the NHS is run, to remodel it along the lines of utilities, railways… even sewage is mentioned.

The government claim they have amended the bill to rule out price competition but it is far from clear.

The committee stage of the Bill’s passage through parliament is now complete. Further amendments are likely to be tabled when the Bill moves to the House of Lords for debate in May.

An agreement that usually prevents the Lords voting against legislation will not apply because the main elements of the Health Bill were not in the coalition parties’ manifestos, said Mr Healey.

Mr Healey said the government was guilty of ‘pre-legislative implementation’ and that the speed of the reforms were 'piling pressure on the NHS'.

The Labour health team will be pushing for further amendments so consortia are required to be run by a GP and to prevent commissioning being ‘franchised off’ to profit-making companies.

The Times reported last week that the prime minister and his deputy Nick Clegg are working on ‘a new strategy’ for the NHS overhaul.

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