The Health Bill’s progress through Parliament is to be delayed by a month, HSJ understands, to give health secretary Andrew Lansley time to listen to concerns about the possible impact on the NHS.  

Mr Lansley told the House of Commons yesterday that the government plans to amend the bill, but provided no substantial details on what will change, following speculation about a “U-turn” over the controversial proposals.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that there would now be “a pause, through recess and beyond, to listen.”

A listening exercise will be launched tomorrow by prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, and Mr Lansley, and will be followed by a series of events throughout the Easter break and afterwards, HSJ has learned.

HSJ understands that the timetable of the bill is to be delayed by a month, meaning that it will return to the House of Commons in mid-June, rather than mid-May as previously planned, before passing to the Lords in mid-July, rather than mid-June. The government’s intention is still to secure Royal Assent for the bill by the end of the year.

Mr Lansley told Parliament that he recognised there were some “genuine” concerns. He said: “We intend to take the opportunity of a natural break in the passage of the bill to engage and subsequently bring forward amendments to improve the bill in the normal way.”

Government amendments are expected to be made to the bill in the Lords in the summer.

Mr Lansley today said he would “indicate some of the areas where I believe we will be able to make improvements”.

They were:

  • Ensuring choice and competition should “only ever be a means to impove services for patients”. Mr Lansley said he some wanted assurance independent providers would not be able to “cherry pick” services, causing problems for NHS organisations.
  • In relation to accountability, he said: “People want to know GP groups cannot have a conflict of interest… and are accountable, not only nationally but locally to health and wellbeing boards.”
  • Assurance the “patient voice” in the health service is “genuinely influential”.
  • Changes to “support truly integrated services” and the “breaking down [of] institutional barriers”.

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