Lords drive changes to Health Bill

Changes to the Health and Social Care Bill have been announced in response to emerging cross-party opposition in the House of Lords.

According to Health Minister Earl Howe (pictured), the Department of Health will table amendments that preserve the responsibility of the Health Secretary to maintain the NHS as a comprehensive public service.

A further amendment will prevent CCGs from withholding care from certain patient groups on the basis of ‘lifestyle’.

The decision follows statements by the Royal College of Radiologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists of their opposition to the Bill, joining the BMA, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Nurses.

With the College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College of Physicians also expressing serious concerns, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s repeated claim that the reforms have the broad support of the medical profession is looking increasingly exposed.

Recent criticisms of the Health Bill in the House of Lords have been led by the LibDem peer Baroness Williams and the Conservative peer Lord Mackay of Clashfern, as well as Labour’s Baroness Thornton.

The latter described the new amendments as a “massive climbdown” by Andrew Lansley, but said that attention still needed to be paid to the part of the Bill dealing with competition.

Concern has focused on the potential fragmentation of the NHS: both the scaling down of provision from a ‘comprehensive’ service to a ‘basic’ service, and the wholesale conversion of NHS services into private franchises reimbursed by the NHS.

In a letter to a group of peers, Earl Howe commented: “There seems to be an emerging consensus about how the bill can be improved in order to put beyond doubt the secretary of state’s accountability for the health service.”

Organisations representing hospital doctors and A&E doctors appear likely to add to the clinical opposition to the reforms. The members of the Royal College of Physicians have called for an emergency general meeting to condemn the Bill, while the College of Emergency Medicine has expressed serious concerns.