The Health and Social Care Bill is set to continue its progress after the Government won two key votes in the House of Lords.
Peers voted 330 to 262 against an amendment to refer parts of the Bill to a special select committee and also rejected an amendment to block the legislation altogether.
Ministers say that the votes show the Bill now has wide spread support but the BMA has again called for it to be “withdrawn” or “substantially amended”.
A line by line examination of the Government’s controversial reforms will now begin in the House of Lords on 25 October. Labour has said it will again “fight” the proposals despite the outcome of the votes.
The amendment to block the Bill was put forward by Labour peer and former GP Lord Rea, who argued that it was never a manifesto by either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. It was rejected 354 votes to 220.
Attempts to delay the progress of the Bill, which Lord Howe said my “prove fatal” to the NHS, were tabled by two crossbench peers, Lords Owen and Hennessy. The two called for its referral to a special select committee, which would have allowed witnesses and experts to provide evidence on the proposals after concerns were raised about the responsibility of the health secretary and the role of the NHS’ regulator Monitor in promoting competition.
A spokesman for the DH says decision by Lords “moves us one step closer to delivering a world-class health service that puts patients at its heart and hands more power to health professionals”.
But Andy Burnham, Labour’s recently appointed Shadow Health Secretary, says hearts “sunk around the NHS” when the Bill survived the votes and the Government is “digging in for the long haul” as it faces more opposition.
Doctors’ leader Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of the BMA, says it continues to have concerns about “many areas” of the Bill and says the council will continue to raise its opposition “at every available opportunity”.
Dr Meldrum called for an assurance that patients’ choice of provider of care would not 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.”
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