The government has introduced further amendments to its Health and Social Care Bill to calm rebelling Lib Dem MPs.
In a letter to peers, Tory Health Minister Earl Howe has promised “further safeguards” over the removal of the private patient cap and the role of the economic regulator Monitor.
The amendments aim to provide greater transparency around the role of governors in scrutinising plans to earn non-NHS income and make a clear divide over Monitor’s’ ‘transitional’ and ‘enduring’ plans.
Lib Dems will vote to axe the Health Bill in its entirety at the party’s forthcoming Spring Conference in Newcastle this weekend (9-11 March).
Earl Howe said the amendments will provide “ongoing reassurance”, while the Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham branded them a “fig leaf”.
“The amendments we have brought forward will provide on-going reassurance that the NHS will always operate in the interests of patients,” said Earl Howe.
“The principles of our modernisation plans — doctors and nurses making decisions, patients being at the heart of the health system, and less bureaucracy — have always been at the core of the Bill.
“These principles are widely accepted according to the independent NHS Future Forum. We will continue to work with Peers to provide the reassurance and clarity necessary as the Health Bill progresses through Parliament.”
Burnham accused the Deputy Prime Minister of “selling the NHS short” by settling for the “watered-down package”.
He said the amendments have “all the hallmarks of a behind-the-scenes deal, designed as a fig leaf” for Clegg to “cling to” at a “difficult” Spring Conference this weekend.
“It leaves the Coalition’s plans to turn the NHS into a free market firmly in place and does not address the profound concerns of health professionals,” said Burnham.
“Lib Dem activists will not be convinced by Nick Clegg’s posturing and face-saving amendments.”
The House of Lords are set to debate the more controversial aspects of the Health Bill, such as competition, this afternoon (6 March).
GPB reporter Louise Naughton will be attending the Lords’ debate in Westminster this afternoon. Follow @Louise_Naughton for updates