The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has said the health bill is likely to go back to the House of Commons for further scrutiny, potentially pushing its passage through parliament back by several months.
Addressing health professionals and patients at University College Hospital this morning, the deputy prime minister said it would be wrong to ‘bounce’ the bill through Parliament, and said it would need to be sent back to repeat its committee stage.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Clegg risked undermining the health secretary on key planks of his reforms, as he also also revealed that the 2013 deadline for all GP consortia to assume control of NHS budgets was likely to be shelved, saying GPs should only take on responsibility ‘when they are ready and willing’.
Mr Clegg made it clear that the bill would not be rushed through Parliament, following Mr Lansley’s admission earlier this week that the controversial legislation could be sent back to the House of Commons following the conclusion of the Government’s listening exercise.
Mr Clegg said: ‘I don’t think it would be right for us to hold this listening exercise – to make big changes to the legislation – and then to seek to bounce it through Parliament. It is very important that MPs, who represent millions of patients up and down the country, have the opportunity to really look at the details that we are proposing.’
‘I think we will need to send the bill back to committee. I have always said that it is best to take our time to get it right rather than move too fast and risk getting the details wrong.’
He added: ‘Change won’t happen overnight and arbitrary deadlines are no good to any one. Family doctors should be more involved in the way the NHS works. But they should only take on that responsibility when they are ready and willing, working with other medical professionals too.’
The deputy Prime Minister also confirmed that economic regulator Monitor would be required to promote both collaboration and competition, and that the health secretary would have a ‘public duty to ensure a comprehensive health service, accessible to all’, two areas that have caused much consternation among critics of the bill.
He said: ‘Monitor’s main duty will be to protect and promote the needs of patients instead using collaboration and competition as means to that end.’
But while Mr Clegg is keen to assert himself on the health bill following the recent local elections, some Tory MPs are keen that key parts of the reforms remain unchanged and that the party is not perceived to buckle under pressure from its coalition partner.
Backbencher Nick de Bois emailed all Tory MPs this week calling for ‘red lines’ to be drawn on ‘the principles on which we will not budge’.
Nick Clegg Nick Clegg