UK Politics

MPs approve NHS bill as Labour bid fails

Image caption Ministers want the NHS bill to enter law next week

The government's health changes have survived their final parliamentary test and are set to become law.

A Labour call for MPs to postpone their final consideration of the NHS overhaul in England until an assessment of the potential risks is published was defeated by 82 votes.

The House of Lords approved the bill late on Monday evening.

The government hopes the Health and Social Care Bill will now get Royal Assent and become law by Easter.

The bill has had a difficult passage through Parliament with the government conceding substantial changes to the legislation.

The government overcame the final major parliamentary obstacle to the bill when it defeated the Labour motion on the issue of potential risks by 328 to votes to 246.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said as the bill was debated: "The only hope that I can give to people worried about the future of the NHS today is that this might be the end of the bill but it is just the beginning of our campaign."

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the Commons: "The truth is, this is political opportunism dressed up as principle. This is a debate for no purpose."

After the debate, Health Minister Simon Burns said: "The question of the risk register was debated in the House of Lords and defeated.

"We have published two full impact assessments which completely cover all aspects of the legislation."

Mr Burnham pledged that the changes would be overturned if Labour won the next election.

Ahead of the debate, Conservative and Lib Dem ministers "banged" the table at a cabinet meeting to mark the impending passing of the NHS reforms into law.

It will not officially come into force until the Queen has signed the bill and it returns to the Commons for Royal Assent some time before Easter.

The legislation abolishes Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts and gives much greater control over care budgets and commissioning decisions to GPs and other health professionals.

Professional bodies representing doctors, nurses and other NHS workers have joined opposition politicians in fighting the changes.

There has also been criticism from several leading Liberal Democrats of Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's plans. But the prime minister's spokesman said there had been "cross-party banging" of the table in cabinet.

But unions said they would not relent in their opposition to the bill when it becomes law.

"We will continue to campaign hard to try and mitigate the worst excesses of this bill," said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, adding that ministers were ignoring the "groundswell of opposition" to the proposals.

"Patients will have a two-tier health service and where they live will determine the healthcare they receive."

Members of Unison, which represents more than a million public sector workers, held a minute's silence outside Parliament in protest at the changes.

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