Criticism of the government's Health and Social Care Bill is growing, ahead of the legislation's return to Parliament next week.
Campaigners against the NHS reforms are planning local events nationwide during September 3-9, to coincide with the report stage of the Bill which is due to take place in the House of Commons on September 6. On September 7, NHS staff and patients are set to gather for a candlelit vigil outside Parliament at the time that MPs are due to vote on the Bill before it passes to the Lords, says UNISON, the UK's biggest public-sector trade union.
"It's vital to say 'no' to this bill for many reasons, but here are just three to remember: - our money will be wasted on private profit and decisions made by management consultants; - there'll be worse patient care, with postcode lotteries, hospitals closing, fewer treatments and longer waiting times; and - "there'll be more red tape, with costs to the NHS and taxpayers rising as hospitals are tied up in bureaucracy," says UNISON.
Labour's health spokesman, John Healey, has also criticised the limited length of time which MPs will be given to examine the amended version of the Bill before it goes to the upper House.
"This again shows David Cameron and his Ministers looking to railroad their legislation through the Commons. MPs will get only two days to debate these amendments next week, as the Prime Minister and his deputy hope to square everything off before their party conferences," The Guardian newspaper reported Mr Healey as saying.
The newspaper also notes that the Department of Health has confirmed reports that more than 75% of the 1,000 ministerial amendments to the Bill relate to changing the proposed name of the GP buying groups from "consortia" to "clinical commissioning groups."
Meantime, the Department has again dismissed claims by pressure group 38 Degrees that the Bill will remove the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide or secure the provision of health services, and that a "hands-off clause" will "severely curtain the Secretary's ability to influence the delivery of NHS care to ensure everyone receives the best healthcare possible."
The claims are made in a legal review of the Bill commissioned by 38 Degrees, and the group says the review has also found "a number of measures which will increase competition within the NHS at the expense of collaboration and integration and/or make it almost inevitable that UK and European Union [EU] competition law will apply as if it were a unity like gas or telecoms."
However, in a response, the Department says: "the Secretary of State will continue to be responsible - as now - for promoting a comprehensive health service. The NHS will always be available to all, free at the point of use and based on need and not on the ability to pay. To say otherwise is absolute nonsense."
The Department also stresses that: "competition is not, and will not be, used as an end in itself. The Bill, does not change current UK or EU competition legislation or procurement legislation or the areas to which they apply."