The government has suffered its first defeat on its Health Bill as peers forced in a “symbolic” mental health-led amendment by a margin of four votes.
The Health and Social Care Bill returned to the Lords yesterday (8 February) to commence the report stage of proceedings, whereby government amendments will be discussed and scrutinised.
An amendment put forwarded by Labour peer Lord Patel sought to clarify the Secretary of state’s duty to promote “a health service designed to secure improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of both physical and mental illness.”
Lord Patel said the amendment was needed to place mental health funding and provision on an equal footing of that of physical health.
Tory Health Minister Earl Howe tried to rebuff the amendment by saying the legislation makes clear any reference to ‘illness’ would legally cover both physical and mental illnesses.
Despite his claims, amendment was voted in by 244 votes to 240.
Three Liberal Democrat peers – Lord Alliance, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Baroness Tonge – voted against the government.
Shadow Health Minister Baroness Thornton said the amendment’s effect would be “symbolic”, but that the legislation would be “better for it”.
We are absolutely delighted that this amendment has been passed,” said Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind.
“For the first time there will be legal recognition that mental health is just as important as physical health in the NHS. We hope the Government stands by this ground-breaking amendment as the Bill goes through.”