Bill Watch: State of Play – A Review of the Health and Care Bill’s Passage Through the Commons
Since its publication in July, the Health and Social Care Bill has sparked excitement and debate within health policy circles.
This week, the Bill is in the Lords for its second reading, marking the first major opportunity for Peers to debate its principles and purpose. Members, it’s worth remembering, that now include Lord Stevens of Birmingham, the former NHS England chief.
So far the Bill has not disappointed in generating headlines about stealth privatisation, the NHS being sold to America and the “denationalisation” of our national treasure, as well as the slightly more curious sight of another national treasure, Stephen Fry, becoming the face of a campaign called ‘Your NHS needs you!’.
The progress of the Bill so far can be characterised as having generated more heat than light. Thoughtful amendments have perhaps become lost amidst the noise. As Isabel Hardman said in the Independent recently, “If the Tories really wanted to privatise the NHS, you think they’d have managed it by now.”
As the Bill moves to the upper chamber, there are a few areas where Government has so far resisted the opportunity to accept amendments that might have made a tangible difference, where it might be hoped that the Lords intervene. Jeremy Hunt’s niche amendment on workforce forecasting, blocked by the Government allegedly because the Treasury thinks it would cost too much, is one such reform that Peers may wish to adopt.
The Lords might also want to take a close look at the additional powers given to the Secretary of State, an area where scrutiny is encouraged by both the King’s Fund and NHS Confederation, amongst others.
It is likely that Peers will drill down to the important issues, and prioritise pragmatic amendments which will improve the Bill before it returns to the Commons.