Lib Dems developing amendments to the health bill

Posted on March 22, 2011 by


The Health & Social Care Bill is still in Committee stage in the Commons, being scrutinised by MPs clause by clause, but at their conference a couple of weeks back, the Lib Dems voted against some of the proposed reorganisation and an article in the Guardian this week gives a few pointers what that might mean for the progress of the Bill through the Commons. And last Friday, another Guardian article explored concerns over the impact reorganisation could have on expertise in the NHS, including for research.

There was an interesting article in the Guardian on Friday Creeping privatisation of the NHS will mean loss of expertise, say top doctors talking about the impact the changed structure of the NHS could have on research.

Jagnu Banatvala, emeritus professor of clinical virology at the University of London, who worked at King’s, raised concerns that expertise would suffer as private companies cherry-picked profitable but clinically less important work.

“The reforms risk the NHS contracting out services to high-volume and low-cost commercial organisations. This has serious implications for research. Nobel prizes come from laboratories and we need to make sure they deal with clinically complicated cases. I cannot see how that will happen.”

You might also be interested in Simon Denegri’s reflections about this on his blog

At the Liberal Democrat spring conference a couple of weeks back, there was lots of upset about the proposals in the Health Bill. The party, which is federal so policy decisions are taken by its members, voted in favour of an amendment calling for radical changes to the Bill – including an end to “top down” reorganisation of the NHS and limits to opening up services to more private competition. So this is now Liberal Democrat party policy.

The party is now working to draw up detailed amendments to the Bill in line with this vote. The added pressure is that the Bill is due to finish committee stage in the Commons at the end of March, following which there will be a debate on the floor of the House for all MPs; report stage. (full timeline here) during which MPs will vote on the Bill. Lib Dems need to reconcile their party policy decision disagreeing with aspects of the Bill with being members of the coalition government under pressure to support their government’s Bill.

Yesterday there was an article in the Guardian looking at how they are approaching this:

The proposals to be circulated among senior Liberal Democrat health experts are designed to turn the motions passed at the party’s spring conference a week ago into detailed amendments to the health and social care bill before it reaches its report stage…

…Senior Liberal Democrats argue the changes need to be made before the bill’s report stage, likely to be next month, or Liberal Democrat MPs would have to vote against their own party’s policy and the coalition agreement.

which includes some detail on the areas they may look at including duties on GP Commissioning Boards and the role of Monitor.

They are likely to focus on areas such as ensuring that GP commissioning boards have a duty to prevent cherry-picking by the private sector, and that the boards contain locally-elected councillors or are scrutinised by councils.

They would also look at the structure, aims and membership of the proposed economic regulator, Monitor. The Health Department is likely to oppose any suggestion that elected councillors sit on commissioning boards on the grounds that this would politicise what are essentially medical decisions.

They are trying to ensure the proposed amendments are in line with the coalition agreement.

The article also mentions that David Cameron has appointed Paul Bate, a former health adviser to Tony Blair, to help oversee the planned reforms.

What next?

AMRC are working with a cross-section of organisations focused on medical research to make sure that research gets a look in during discussion of the Bill. We’re working to identify the key areas which need beefing up with research – see our briefing here for more. We’re also having a workshop to discuss this and pick it apart in more detail on 29 March.

The real opportunity for detailed amendments where the implications for research can be explored in detail is likely to be in the Lords. It’s difficult to predict when the Bill is likely to reach the Lords; it could be just after Easter or as late as June. Updates on timing will appear here.

Posted in: Policy