By Gareth Iacobucci
The Government’s Health and Social Care Bill is to face further delays after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg revealed that the controversial legislation was likely to be recommitted to the House of Commons for further scrutiny.
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.’
‘We aren’t going to just sweep away tiers of NHS management overnight. NHS managers will carry on doing the commissioning in areas where GPs aren’t yet ready. And there’ll be no sudden, top-down opening up of all NHS services to any qualified provider.’
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.’
‘I’ve heard people suggest that our reforms could lead to politicians washing their hands of our health services, because of the way the bill is phrased. So we need to be clearer – the secretary of state will continue to be accountable for your health services.’
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey, said promoting the needs of patients through competition as well as collaboration can be ‘contradictory’.
‘In a system driven by competition, many services patients rely on could be at risk. We welcome the signs that the Government recognises these concerns, but real evidence of their commitment to listen will not come until we learn more about their plans for the bill.’
Shadow health secretary John Healey said: ‘I welcome Nick Clegg backing Labour’s motion to send the Health and Social Care Bill back to the House of Commons to re-run its committee stage.’
‘The Government’s plans for the NHS need to be radically re-thought. If fundamental changes are going to be made to the legislation, they need full and proper scrutiny in Parliament.’