Former minister for health Lord Owen has launched a scathing attack on the government's controversial plans for health and social care reform in the House of Lords this morning.

Speaking as part of a Lord's debate ‘to call attention to standards of care and the commissioning of services in the NHS', Lord Owen said he is strongly opposed to an external market, and has called for changes to the Health and Social Care Bill to "guarantee a reprieve from price competition".

He argues that the internal market can create a climate beneficial to managing the NHS,"but the moment the patient believes that the decisions of doctors and nurses are taken on cost grounds as the result of competitive trading the relationship of trust will alter". 

"Politicians, in attempting to cross over into an external market for health, as this Health and Social Care Bill does, are embarking on a course involving the deepest conflict with age-old values, traditions and concepts of respect and the public good," he claims, and stressed that "health is not a market commodity".

Lord Owen believes the bill should be substantially amended but also said he hopes Prime Minister David Cameron "will soon change Ministers in the Department of Health to allow for fresh thinking with less dogmatism".

A pamphlet outlining his objections states that "it is an understatement to say that this bill lacks 'the whole hearted consent of the British people' let alone the support of the health professions," and that "a mindset is developing that ensures that this bill should not be enacted in anything like its present shape and form". 

Coffin paraded at parliament

Meanwhile, Britain and Ireland's biggest union UNITE paraded a coffin outside parliament this week to symbolise the death of the National Health Service from excessive privatisation.

The union presented a letter signed by 13,000 protestors urging MPs to "protect the NHS from the savage and unnecessary reforms put forward in the bill", and warning that the reforms laid out in the bill "will reduce the quality of health services available to people in the UK, increase healthcare costs, and ultimately widen health inequality".

It has called for changes to six areas of the bill, including: a cap on private patients income to guard against the reduction of non-fee paying patients; legislation to ensure competition is measured on quality and service delivered, rather than price; and that all NHS bodies and healthcare providers to be accountable to parliament.

NHS calls for discussion

Elsewhere, the NHS Confederation has published a discussion paper analysing concerns over the health bill and suggesting measures to address them.

"The debate on the reforms has become very polarised and entrenched, with little movement on the practical ways of managing what are very significant risks. This is destabilising for an NHS that is already making structural changes to meet the government’s agenda", said Nigel Edwards, the confederation's acting chief executive.

According to its paper there are four key areas of concern: competition and fears over privatisation; the switch to GP commissioning; arrangements for accountabilty; and the risks in the transition at a time when the health service has been tasked with delivering £20 billion in productivity gains over the next four years.

"We are not saying we have all the answers but we do want to start a conversation about the solutions," Edwards noted.