Home > Debbie Abrahams, Health Bill, Parliament > Health Bill makes it past the Second Reading stage

Health Bill makes it past the Second Reading stage

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Health and Social Care Bill passed the second reading stage in the House of Commons yesterday and will now progress to a Public Bill Committee. The first meeting of the Committee is expected to take place next Tuesday.

The Bill is pretty wide in scope but the main parts have been well reported in the press, albeit with various reactions. There is a great deal of disagreement about whether the reforms laid out in the Bill are a radical reform, or the next logical step in creating an improved NHS.

Simon Burns, Minister of State with the Department of Health, touched on this during his summing up:

In fact [our plans] are evolutionary and an extension of the policies of previous Administrations, notably the Blair and Brown Governments

The key reform will be the eradication of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs). These will be replaced with GP consortia. As PCTs and SHAs are abolished, they will be replaced with a new NHS Commissioning Board. The Commissioning Board will received a budget from the Department of Health, and will then be responsible for allocating this to each consortia based on number of patients and the local health demographics.

Basically, the idea behind the Bill seems to be to give GPs more control over how they treat their patients. This makes sense—GPs know the needs of their patients better than bureaucrats.

However, it’s also a cost cutting exercise and critics of the Bill argue that it will produce more competition within the public health system—competition that will harm patient care.

These were the main arguments that dominated the second reading debate yesterday. Labour rounded against it while Tory MPs spoke in favour.

We saw the maiden speech from Debbie Abrahams during the proceedings—a natural choice for her as she was formally Chair of Rochdale PCT—and she delivered an impressive performance.

After going through the traditional platitudes to her constituency and her predecessor (the shamed Phil Woolas, who Abrahams said had “incredible attention to detail” and showed “kindness” to his constituents), she attacked the argument that competition is good for health care. Instead of widening choice, it will “give rise to a new postcode lottery.”

The only Lib Dem to speak at length about the Bill was Andrew George. A member of the Commons Health Committee, George praised the intentions of the proposed reforms, but questioned the timing—an argument I believe carries a lot of weight.

The NHS is being asked to make major reforms at a time they are expected to make record savings. If the Bill becomes legislation, there is a chance that the reforms will be implemented without the financial backing they need. Indeed, the Coalition estimates that the cost of reorganisation will be £1.4 billion, compared to other assessments that put the figure nearer £3 billion.

It is unclear whether the difference in figures is down to government under-funding, or opposition over-costing.

The Bill passed easily, 321 votes to 235. There were no coalition Members who voted against the plans, although George purposely abstained.

I haven’t made my mind up over the plans. My instinct is that they need some work. I’m planning on having a closer look at the Bill before posting my thoughts.

So there’s something for you to look forward to…

  1. efgd3833
    February 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

    The major problem with the changes is the timing. But having said that, that is one way for a government to achieve the unpopular and draconian changes it wants – at the beginning of its term and along with other draconian changes, that way the electorate can not mobilise along a particular trajectory, and opposition has to work harder to understand the implications of the proposals, never mind thinking about driving wedges into the proposals. The lackluster performance of the Labour leadership and its failure to start off on, if you like, attack mode, is evidence of poor political comprehension. With the onset of the coalition government coming to power Labour, sadly, did what is does best, pontificate and look inward, with the Labour leadership vote taking far too long, should have happened the moment Brown stood down; I know holidays and time scale blah blah blah, but this was akin to a house being on fire and the people in the house putting their make up on and or dressing for a Lord Mayors banquet before moving to put out the fire, never mind getting out. A chance for active political interaction was wasted. The electorate had to ‘wait and see’ what was going on – thus being diverted from the immediate important changes to the drawn-out Labour leader voting. When one has too much to take in all at once, well…

    As I said on my blog, thank you for your comment, the bottom line is not really who runs or manages the NHS, though important that is, it is how they run it. I look forward to your comments on the Bill.

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