Lords bill aims to restore Health Secretary’s duty to provide NHS

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Owen A new House of Lords bill aims to restore the legal duty of the Health Secretary to “secure provision” of NHS services.

The National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, introduced by independent peer David Owen, would reverse the autonomy of the NHS – a key legal plank in its anticipated carve-up by the private sector.

According to Owen, the new bill would provide a Labour government with ready-made legislation to avoid “the worst ravages” of a healthcare market.

Since the establishment of the NHS in 1948, the Health Secretary has had a legal duty to ensure that health services are provided nationwide.

However, the Health and Social Care Act (2012) replaced this duty with a less specific “responsibility” for NHS management, with accountability for services passing into the remit of an “autonomous” NHS.

This transition, Owen claims, ensures that decisions about what services will be freely available to patients will be made by non-accountable bodies, including private companies.

Supporters of Owen’s bill include Clare Gerada, Chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research and Policy at Queen Mary, University of London.

“This bill, if it becomes an act in 2015, will come just in time to save [the NHS] from the worst ravages of an external and full blooded market,” Owen said.

As legislation, he added, it would enable a new government “to reverse the marketisation of health, the treatment of health as just another utility, and to reinstate not just its democratic base but its values.”

The Department of Health commented that clauses clearly stating the Health Secretary’s “responsibility” and “accountability” for the NHS were included in the Health and Social Care Act “after constructive cross-party discussion”.