Coalition facing Lords rebellion over ‘inept’ health service reforms, Lord Owen warns

The Government faces a House of Lords rebellion over its controversial health service reforms, a founder of the Social Democratic Party has warned.

Lord Owen heavily criticised the Health and Social Care Bill and called on the Coalition to “replace existing Health Ministers”, allowing for “fresh thinking, and much less dogmatism”.

Preparing to attack the Bill in the Lords yesterday, the crossbench peer said the Coalition lacked a mandate for many of the reforms.

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“What this Bill does is focus on means with little concept of ends,” he said.

“Perhaps the Government are deliberately hiding the ends because they know if they did not do so it would make its health policy even more unpopular and incoherent.

“There was no mention in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat party manifestos at the 2010 General Election of an intention to carry forward anything like this revolutionary change. Under the Salisbury Convention, the House of Lords is entitled therefore to make substantial amendments to this Health and Social Care Bill.”

Under the reforms, 80 per cent of the NHS budget will pass to GPs to commission services for patients. The Bill also allows for increased competition between the NHS and private companies.

The plans have come in for huge criticism, including from unions and delegates attending the Liberal Democrat conference earlier this month.

In February, Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams also challenged the plans, saying they would “dismember” the NHS through an “untried and disruptive” reorganisation.

In a pamphlet entitled Fatally Flawed: Yes to the NHS Internal Market - No to the External Market, Lord Owen said Prime Minister David Cameron had, prior to the election, “brilliantly defused” the NHS as an issue which traditionally had won votes for Labour and lost votes for the Tories.

“Many NHS workers were wooed by Cameron’s obvious emotional commitment to the NHS care his son had received. They felt their work would be recognised,” the pamphlet read.

“Also, the Liberal Democrats who had all through the 1980s and 1990s been very reluctant to even endorse the internal market would, it was felt, act as protectors of the NHS in the Coalition.

“Yet, despite this, the Coalition unexpectedly and inexplicably, forged ahead with legislation for NHS reforms of staggering ineptitude.”