Cameron’s health defence fails to stop Lords defeat

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The Government suffered its first defeat on highly contentious plans to reform the health service just hours after the Prime Minister mounted a passionate defence of the shake-up.

David Cameron, whose disabled son Ivan died in 2009, told the Commons the overhaul was essential to ensure that everyone received the “amazing” care his family had.

But peers backed an amendment, by a majority of four, to the Health and Social Care Bill that called for greater emphasis on mental health when it returned to the Lords. There were three Liberal Democrat rebels – Lord Alliance, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Baroness Tonge.

Earlier, the reorganisation, which puts GPs in charge of budgets, was branded a “disaster” by Labour and respected medical organisations have lined up to criticise it.

During fiery exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband urged Mr Cameron to “give up” on the Bill.

“This is a matter of trust in the Prime Minister,” he told MPs. “Can he honestly look people in the health service in the eye and say he’s kept his promise of no more top-down reorganisation?”

But Mr Cameron insisted GPs were not just “supporting our reforms, they are implementing our reforms”. He added: “I care passionately about the NHS, not least because of what it has done for my family and because of the amazing service that I have received.”

“I want to see that excellent service implemented for everyone and that means two things: it means we have got to put more money into the NHS, and we are putting the money in, but it also means we have got to reform the NHS.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been widely criticised for his handling of the flagship Bill, which Mr Cameron was forced to “pause” last year after the fierce backlash, and earlier this week reports quoted an unnamed source at No 10 who said he should be “taken out and shot”. The PM also dismissed suggestions Mr Lansley’s job could be on the line.

The UK Faculty of Public Health has become the latest in a string of professional healthcare bodies to call for the Bill to be scrapped.

A survey of members found that 93 per cent believed it would damage the NHS and the health of people in England and three-quarters wanted the Faculty to demand its withdrawal.

Faculty president Professor Lindsey Davies said: “We are now calling on the Government to withdraw the Bill in its entirety, because it would be in the best interests of everyone’s health.”

The Government has already accepted scores of amendments to the Bill, including a guarantee that the Health Secretary will remain ultimately responsible for providing NHS services in England.

Fears have emerged that the key issue of competition may not be settled before next month’s Liberal Democrat spring conference.

Reports earlier this week suggested that the idea had been floated in Downing Street of inviting Labour’s former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn to accept a peerage in order to replace Mr Lansley and take forward the NHS reforms.