Changes afoot to the health bill?

Posted on April 4, 2011 by

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Lots of news coverage today suggesting that the Health & Social Care Bill is going to be slowed down and changes are afoot…

Background

In July 2010, the government published a white paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, which proposed changest to how the NHS works. The Health & Social Care Bill was published on 19 January 2011 and aims to make the legislative changes necessary to put these proposals into action. It makes little explicit mention of research but is reorganising the architecture in ways which will impact research.

The Health & Social Care Bill has just completed committee stage in the Commons, being scrutinised by MPs clause by clause. A date has yet to be set for report stage and third reading in the Commons, after which the Bill will move over to the Lords. Timeline here.

At their Spring conference a few weeks back, the Lib Dems voted against some of the proposed reorganisation which, as members of the coalition government who introduced this bill, raised difficulties for Lib Dems voting on the Bill. As a result, the Lib Dems have been working to develop amendments to the Bill in line with their policy – see coverage of these discussions on 22 March.

What happened today?

An article in the Guardian Cameron set to announce delay of key NHS reforms and an interview with Nick De Bois and Dr Evan Harris on the Today programme (at 07:49) suggest that the government is planning to delay report stage in the Commons, possibly for as long as three months, to give time to discuss its contents and consider making some changes.

As the House is about to rise for Easter recess, it was unlikely there would have been any parliamentary time for report stage until early May anyway. It is now looking like it could be June/July, with the Bill not being properly discussed in the Lords ’til the Autumn. We’ll know for sure later this week, the Guardian article suggests that they’ll be an announcement by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley at a joint event this week. EGov suggests that they are going to announce a ‘listening exercise’ to allow stakeholders to engage with senior politicians on the proposed NHS reforms.

A group of Liberal Democrats looking at how the bill could be amended in line with their policy are due to release 23 detailed demands today.

The guardian article also suggests that David Cameron is now choosing to talk directly to David Nicolson (Chief Executive of the NHS who is chairing the newly established NHS Commissioning Board which is a central part of the new-look NHS) rather than Andrew Lansley.

And a recent Policy Exchange report Implementing GP Commissioning findings have reportedly led to them advising David Cameron to slow the pace of health reforms.

What next?

We’re waiting for some confirmation on all this and what is really happening..

…but whatever happens timing-wise it doesn’t change our concerns over the lack of focus of research in the bill and detail of where it fits in a new-look NHS. The Liberal Democrat concerns being discussed at the moment are focused more on the overall system changes, the move to GP-led commissioning,  the creation of an NHS market, ensuring democratic accountability etc. Whatever these changes end up looking like, we need to focus on where research is going to fit within this new system and building the right incentives to ensure it’s a central role of the NHS, not sidelined. With this in mind, 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 and we’re going to have to follow the discussion closely to see where we can feed in. The real opportunity for detailed amendments where the implications for research can be explored in detail is likely to be in the Lords.

Posted in: Policy