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Labour lose vote against health bill

By Amy Fallon

A Labour Party motion noting 'growing concerns' over the Government's plans to restructure the NHS has been narrowly defeated in a House of Commons vote.

The motion – proposed during a heated debate yesterday on the Health and Social Care Bill – urged the Government to drop the 'damaging and unjustified market-based approach' in the bill, but was defeated by 284 votes to 231.

The Health and Social Care Bill passed Committee stage in the Commons on March 31, but health secretary Andrew Lansley announced last month a pause in its progress, to allow a 'listening exercise' on the reforms.

However, opposition politicians pushed for fundamental changes to the bill during an Opposition Day debate yesterday.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said he agreed with the thrust of the changes, but what the Government was doing 'was different from what they are saying'.

'In one third of the legislation, they are not setting up GP consortia or reducing bureaucracy in the NHS, but setting up the NHS as a full-blown market. That is the wrong prescription for our NHS, and it is patients who will suffer,' he said.

But speaking during the debate, health Secretary Mr Lansley defended the changes.

'It is about what the staff of the NHS want. They want the ability to be able to deliver care for patients without being told what to do by the top-down bureaucracy and targets of the Labour government.'

'They want the ability to deliver the care that patients need, to join up health and social care and to integrate the pathways of care. Our bill is about giving them the structure that will allow them to do that.'

John Healey MP Full Labour motion

That this House notes the growing concerns over the Government's handling of the NHS and the effect its policies are having on hospitals and patient care; and calls on the Government to uphold the Coalition Agreement promise to stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS which have got in the way of patient care, to use the present pause in the progress of the Health and Social Care Bill to make fundamental changes, including dropping the damaging and unjustified market-based approach, and to concentrate efforts instead on achieving sound efficiencies, better clinical quality and improved integration of services.

We have called this debate after the Prime Minister was forced to order an unprecedented pause in his health legislation last month. He was forced to do so because of the growing criticism, confusion and crisis of confidence over the Government's NHS reorganisation. It was unprecedented because he told his Health Secretary to stop what he was doing while 45 others on the NHS Future Forum work out what he should be doing. It looks as though the Prime Minister is listening to anybody and everybody on the NHS except the Health Secretary.

We have called this debate after the Deputy Prime Minister's flagship policy was sunk in the AV referendum last week. He is now trying to find a replacement, and claims that changes to the Health and Social Care Bill are his new No. 1 priority. The Deputy Prime Minister and his party are up to their necks in the Tory NHS plans. He and the Prime Minister co-signed the foreword to the White Paper last summer, and he signed off the NHS legislation in Cabinet before Christmas. He and his Lib Dem MPs have backed the Bill at every stage in Parliament. In Committee, his Lib Dem Health Minister led the rejection of Labour's amendments—the amendments that he now says he wants to make.

Now that the Lib Dems are making many of the arguments that Labour has been making since early autumn, people may ask what the Deputy Prime Minister has been doing for the past year, when he changed his mind and why. People may suspect that the deal he is stitching together has more to do with saving his party than safeguarding the NHS.

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