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Big day for coalition as MPs debate Health Bill

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The highlight of today’s Commons sitting will not be PMQs.

Instead, it will be the Opposition Day motion tabled by Labour on the Coalition’s NHS reforms.

Or, more rightly, on the Government’s NHS reforms.

Lib Dem Spring conference last week saw an angry backlash from party members and backbench MPs alike, who, while welcoming some parts of the Health and Social Care Bill, were concerned that the reforms would act against the founding principles of the NHS: available to all, free at the point of use, and based on need, not the ability to pay.

Conference backed a Motion to amend the Bill, and similar sentiments are included in Labour’s motion today.

Indeed, one phrase in Labour’s motion is directly lifted from the one passed by the Lib Dem conference.

Labour will be hoping that by tabling such a Motion they will not only be able to score political points, especially in light of the BMA’s emergency meeting yesterday.

But they will also want to show splits between Lib Dem backbenchers and Lib Dem Ministers.

More importantly, it is an chance for Lib Dem and Labour MPs alike to put forward the case for stopping the damaging aspects of the proposed reforms.

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Health Bill makes it past the Second Reading stage

February 1, 2011 1 comment

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…