Members of the House of Lords have accused civil servants of trying to ‘short circuit’ the parliamentary process to pass a law on avoidable harm.
During a debate on the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill, which places a duty on the health secretary to ensure no avoidable harm is caused by healthcare providers, peers expressed “dismay” over the way the private members bill was being driven by government whips.
Speaking in the debate last week Baroness Pitkeathley, chair of the Professional Standards Authority, told the chamber she felt “dismay” at the way it was being “handled”.
She added: “It is not acceptable to be told by officials, not ministers, not only that the bill cannot be amended but that we cannot have a committee stage for the discussion, negotiation and scrutiny that is such a proud tradition in your lordships’ house.
“There are some complex and difficult issues in the bill that could affect patients for years to come. The parliamentary process should not be short circuited for the convenience of business managers. We would be failing in our duty as a revising chamber if we agreed to that.”
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Lord Warner, a former Labour health minister, added: “Like my noble friends, this is the first time that I have ever been approached by a civil servant to encourage the progress of a private member’s bill, almost implying that I am somehow failing in my duty if I do anything to impede it. That is not the way to proceed.”
While many peers supported the aims of the bill, they called on the government to make more time for it to be scrutinised.
The bill, put forward by the MP for Stafford Jeremy Lefroy, has received both government and Labour opposition support. As well as a clause on avoidable harm, it also includes a legal duty on sharing information using a common identifier for patients, and places a need to consider public confidence on professional regulators.
The bill passed its second reading last week and will progress to a committee of the whole House of Lords on a date yet to be decided.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We contacted peers to inform them about the timing of the bill and offered them the opportunity to discuss their concerns with the department. It is standard practice to keep peers fully informed prior to debate.”