Attempt To Derail NHS Reforms Fails In Lords

Attempts to postpone and alter the NHS reforms have been defeated in the House of Lords to the Government's relief and campaigners' disappointment.

The House of Lords were asked to decide if the Health and Social Care Bill should be sent back and considered by a committee.

It would have delayed its passage through Parliament and could have resulted in substantial revisions.

But the bid, led by former SDP leader Lord Owen, was defeated in Parliament with a comfortable Government majority.

It will come as a relief to the Coalition and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in particular.

Campaigners saw this as their last-ditch attempt to derail the health reforms.

Campaign group 38 Degrees launched a petition to coincide with the debate which had won the support of 170,000 signatories by 2.30pm on Wednesday.

The group had claimed the outcome could be decided by "one or two votes".

Before the vote, Health minister Earl Howe told peers supporting the amendment would pose "an unacceptable risk to the passage of this Bill and hence the Government's programme for the health service."

He said patients currently get a "poor deal" and the proposed changes would "liberate the NHS".

But Lord Owen, the former SDP leader who proposed the amendment, said Parliament would be in "very serious trouble" with the public if it passes reforms which then go wrong.

The peer denied his amendment was a "blocking measure", saying a special select committee was the only way to look at "the complexity of this new relationship we are trying to establish".

He added: "Health is not a public utility. Health is different."

The changes put forward by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley would allow private and third sector providers to play a bigger role and the commissioning budget would be handed to groups of GPs.

Mr Lansley has said reforming the NHS is the only way to secure its future and he wants to drive up standards by improving patient choice.

He denies the proposed changes - which are opposed by doctors and nurses - amount to privatising the health service.

Labour's shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, has accused the Government of failing to build support among health service workers.

He said NHS staff and patients were "pinning their hopes" on the House of Lords.

"They have the chance to pull the NHS back from the brink. They will be speaking for millions if they stand up to the Government and say enough is enough," he said.

He added: "It's time for all sides to put the NHS first and give it the stability it desperately needs to face up to the overriding priority, which is the financial challenge."