Labour peers are taking aim at the Health Bill’s planned new accountability regime, emphasising the need for a stronger patient voice and for the relationships between statutory bodies to be clarified.
The bill will be debated at its second reading in the Lords today. Opposition members are expected to back a motion posed by Labour’s Lord Rea, which would stop the bill progressing any further through parliament. However, that proposal is widely expected to fail, leaving Lords with the task of amending the existing legislation.
Shadow health minister Baroness Glenys Thornton, who is leading the opposition to the bill in the Lords, told HSJ: “We don’t think this is the right bill – there’s no mandate for it, people hate it and there’s no evidence for it.”
But, she said, the focus will be on improving the bill, not killing it off. “If we have to address ourselves to amending it, we will be taking a very constructive view of those amendments on the Labour benches. That’s really important – we will do the job of work we’re supposed to do in the Lords.”
Baroness Thornton said that much of the work in the Lords “will be about getting ministers to answer questions about what things mean”, and to explain the lines of accountability between Monitor, the NHS Commissioning Board and the Care Quality Commission. She argued “it is completely unclear who is in charge”.
She called for a stronger patient voice in the restructured health service, and said that Lord Beecham, former chair of the Local Government Association, would be working on counter-proposals to strengthen the role of councils in holding commissioners to account.
Another Labour source said opposition frontbenchers might propose councils are represented on clinical commissioning group boards, and that the NHS Commissioning Board be required to report to parliament, possibly via the health select committee.
Labour was not opposed to competition, but Baroness Thornton said the proposed new rules were “unnecessarily expensive, bureaucratic and dangerous”.
She said: “We want to get rid of some of it. The Department of Health already has the Competition and Co-operation Panel, which has a set of rules which are comprehensive and very useful to deal with competition issues.
“Those principles are being transferred into Monitor. I don’t see why you need to do anything else.”