The NHS health reform bill will continue through the House of Lords despite the tabling of two rebel amendments to shelve it.
Critics of Andrew Lansley’s reform bill had hoped the legislation would be held up or blocked by its passage through the House of Lords after reports emerged that some peers held serious concerns about the proposed changes to the healthcare system, with many groups actively lobbying to sway peers to vote against the bill.
However, just two amendments were tabled by those against the reforms. The first, by Labour’s Lord Rea, proposed to kill the bill entirely, while the second, by crossbenchers Lords Owen and Hennessy, requested a three-month hiatus where the legislation would be reviewed by a special committee, which in effect, many believed, would have seen the death of the bill.
Both amendments, however, were defeated: Rea’s proposal was rejected 354 votes to 220, while the Owen-Hennessy bid was overruled 330 to 262.
Despite the setback for those against the changes, critics are determined to continue fighting the bill.
Said Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham on the BBC: “It will be debated now over a number of weeks, even months, in the House of Lords – line by line, clause by clause – and Labour will be wanting changes to this bill, substantial and drastic changes to it, so this is far from over.”
One senior peer hinted that the detailed scrutiny of the bill set to come will result in all-night sittings as there were “six to seven issues around which there is real fury “ including the levels of private care provided by hospitals, the role of the secretary of state for health, the level of bureaucratic reform and European Union competition law. “These issues have got to be debated thoroughly and that is going to take a lot of time.”
The British Medical Association continues to hold its stance that the bill should be either withdrawn or significantly amended “and we will continue to raise our concerns at every available opportunity as the Bill progresses through the House of Lords”, BMA Council chairman Hamish Meldrum said.
“The BMA continues to have many areas of concern, including the need for assurance that increasing patients’ choice of provider for specific elements of their care won’t be given priority over the development of integrated services and fair access. We also need to see an explicit provision that the Secretary of State will retain ultimate responsibility for the provision of comprehensive health services. In addition, we continue to have significant concerns over the arrangements for public health and education and training and we will be looking to see improvements made in these areas too.”
The bill now continues to committee in the Lords before returning to the Commons. The government plans for the legislation to become law by April 2012.