31 August 2011
In July, members of the online action group, 38 Degrees, donated money to fund independent legal advice on the implications of the government's proposals to change the NHS in England.
The 38 Degrees website says Harrison Grant solicitors and specialist barristers Stephen Cragg and Rebecca Haynes were asked to give their legal opinions on two aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill:
- removal of Secretary of State for Health’s Duty to provide or secure provision of NHS services
- impact of competition and procurement law on the NHS.
The legal team says the bill will “remove the duty of the Secretary of State to provide or secure the provision of health services which has been a common and critical feature of all previous NHS legislation since 1946. This is the means by which Parliament ensures the NHS delivers what the public want and expect. Furthermore, a ‘hands-off clause’ will severely curtail the Secretary of State's ability to influence the delivery of NHS care to ensure everyone receives the best healthcare possible.”
This could mean loss of accountability by central government with the NHS becoming “little more than a series of quasi-independent commissioning entities and providers, basically free to get on with the job." Opening the NHS up to competition law, it says, “will increase competition within the NHS at the expense of collaboration and integration and/or make it almost inevitable that UK and EU competition law will apply as if it were a utility like gas or telecoms.”
The group is warning of “costly and complex procurement procedures” and “privatisation by stealth.
38 Degrees has been lobbying its members to email or write to their MPs.
The Department of Health has responded saying:
“We have already responded in detail to 38 degrees. in that response we made clear the Secretary of State will continue to be responsible – as now – for promoting a comprehensive health service. The NHS will always be available to all, free at the point of use and based on need and not the ability to pay. To say otherwise is absolute nonsense.
“We also made clear that modernising the NHS will both safeguard the future of our health service and will deliver a world class health service that puts patients at the heart of everything it does. The independent NHS Future Forum confirmed there is widespread support for the principles of our plans.
“Competition is not, and will not be, used as an end in itself. The Bill does not change current UK or EU competition legislation or procurement legislation or the areas to which they apply.”
The Health and Social Care Bill is due to have its report stage and third reading in Westminster next week, 6-7 September.
The House of Commons Library published a report entitled ‘Health and Social Care (Re-committed) Bill: the NHS Future Forum and the Committee Stage Report’ yesterday, 30 August.