The House of Lords will vote today on the government’s Health and Social Care bill, following a two-day debate involving 100 peers.
Votes on the bill’s second reading are due at around 2.30pm. The Lords will also vote on two proposed amendments: one, tabled by Lord Rea, would block the bill; another, from Lord Owen, would place sections on the duty of the Secretary of State and other legal accountabilities into a special committee, which would then scrutinise those parts in more detail.
However health minister Earl Howe said the move would subject the bill to potentially “fatal” delays, and wrote to all peers yesterday asking them to vote down Lord Owen’s amendment.
Two speakers placed nursing at centre stage. Baroness Emerton said the Royal College of Nursing “is already reporting large reductions in numbers of staff, which are not being replaced by nursing posts, and that specialist nurses are being redeployed from their nursing posts to do other duties.”
She backed the RCN’s calls for mandatory nurse staffing levels and ratios.
Baroness Masham said heathcare assistants are “often dressed up in uniforms that make them indistinguishable from nurses”.
She also cited research from King’s College, London which showed there are “no consistent UK-wide training standards” for HCAs. She said: “Assistant practitioners undertake more complex tasks than healthcare assistants, but again there is no training consistency across the UK… both often undertake tasks for which they are not trained.”
She called for registration of HCAs to be made mandatory, adding: “The lack of regulation means that employment as a support worker may be obtained by people who have been dismissed from a previous healthcare post for misconduct, or who have been struck off the register as a nurse or a midwife.”
During yesterday’s debate Baroness Shirley Williams, an influential Liberal Democrat critic of the said ministers would not carry the public of England with them if it seemed the NHS was being moved “away from the concept of an altruistic health service to one that is essentially money-based”.
Baroness Glenys Thornton warned that the bill would turn “patient choice into shopping” and make healthcare “a traded commodity”, and appealed to the house not to be “panicked, bullied or browbeaten”.
However other Labour peers said they would vote against Lord Owen’s proposals. Former health minister Lord Warner said the bill should be passed quickly, and that there was a “slug of truth” in government claims that it only continued reforms begun in the Blair government.
Former health minister Lord Darzi, who carried out a review of the NHS for Gordon Brown, issued a plea for policymakers to show leadership said the NHS “must embrace change” because “to stand still is to fall back”.