The Government’s NHS reform legislation has passed its final hurdle, despite levels of opposition from the public and the medical profession described as “staggering”.
Last-minute attempts to derail the Health and Social Care Bill, including an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, failed to halt its progress, and it is expected to become law next week.
The final reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, during which more than 300 amendments were made in 25 days of debate, took place on Monday. The Bishops of Bath & Wells, Exeter, Leicester, and St Edmundsbury & Ipswich all voted in favour of Lord Owen’s motion to delay reading the Bill until the House had had time to consider a tribunal’s decision about the publication of a register setting out the risks associated with implementation of the reforms.
Lord Owen, a former Labour health minister, presented a petition signed by almost 500,000 people calling for the health Bill to be withdrawn, and described the “staggering” opposition from unions and royal colleges. The motion was defeated by 213 to 328.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells also voted in support of a motion by Lady Thornton, which criticised what it described as the Bill’s purpose of “the fragmentation of the NHS, with hospitals competing instead of collaborating”. The motion was defeated by the Lords.
The Bill was passed to the House of Commons where, after emotive debate, it was finally voted in with a government majority of 88 on Tuesday.
In February, the General Synod passed a motion tabled by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, calling on the Government to uphold the founding principles of the NHS.
On Wednesday of last week, leaders from a number of Churches in the north of England wrote to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Health Secretary, setting out their concerns about the impact of the Bill on deprived neighbourhoods in the north.
“We wish to state that we have no confidence in market forces as they are applied to health care in the long term because of the inevitable conflict between self-interest and the care of other people, and between shareholder expectations and patient needs,” they wrote.
The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, said on Wednesday: “The NHS is a very precious resource, particularly in the poorest communities, and anything that threatens that by allowing profit to be a motive in health-care provision, I think, will be instinctively distrusted.” Nevertheless, he welcomed the emphasis on closer working between the NHS and local authorities.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the Bill would hand power to clinicians, not market forces. “The Bill safeguards a comprehensive Health Service, free at the point of use for all, with clinicians able to secure high quality and innovative care for patients.
“We have always been clear that whenever and however competition is used in the NHS, it must always be used in the interests of patients.”