A last-ditch effort to stop the government’s NHS reform programme fell apart in the Lords last night, with Tory and Lib Dem peers forcing through wide-ranging changes to the health service.
Opponents lost by 254 votes to 146 in a bid to prevent rules coming into force which would force services to be tendered out to private firms rather than just NHS providers.
“Don’t think this is a minor step. If this goes through the National Health Service as we have seen it, as we have believed in it, as we have persuaded the electorate that we support it, will be massively changed,” Labour’s Lord Owen said.
“It will take five, ten, 15, maybe 20 years, but unless we pull back from this whole attitude there will be no National Health Service that any of us can recognise.
“I for one feel tonight one feeling only: overwhelming sadness.”
One hundred and fourteen Labour peers were joined by 23 crossbenchers, six others and the bishops of Bath, Wells and Bristol in trying to vote down the Section 75 legislation.
They were defeated by 173 Tories, 63 Liberal Democrats and 15 crossbenchers, as well as the bishop of Exeter, Ulster Unionist Lord Empey and Labour’s former health minister Lord Warner.
Over 300,000 people have signed a petition opposing the move.
Government ministers say the changes are merely a continuation of market reforms conducted by Labour when it was in power.
But voluntary groups say they will be forced out of the market by well-financed bidding operations by medical corporations and medical experts have warned of atomised services.
Phil Gray, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “The government’s claim that effective services will be protected from competition is undermined by recent history.
“We have already seen excellent services opened up to the market for no good reason with the expansion of any qualified provider for community health services such as physiotherapy.
“This has led to restrictions on treatment for patients and confusion for commissioners.”
He added: “These new regulations seem certain to do the same for all other NHS services in an open market.”
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