No 10 reassures Clegg
Andy Burnham has accused the Government breaking with "63 years of NHS history" and pushing forward with reforms that will "damage the NHS irreparably".
The Shadow Health Secretary's criticisms come after Number 10 earlier said ministers are happy to provide reassurances to the Liberal Democrats on controversial aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill after Nick Clegg demanded further changes.
In a letter to all Liberal Democrat peers and MPs, Mr Clegg and Baroness Williams this afternoon outlined the changes they wished to see to the legislation. Sources close to Mr Clegg stressed the changes he proposed were significant and not simply reassurances.
Downing Street confirmed that the Prime Minister had seen the letter, and that the Government was "happy to provide further reassurance and clarity on these issues". The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "This covers a number of issues in the Health and Social Care Bill: issues where the Liberal Democrats think there is a need for further reassurance, and the Prime Minister is happy with that.
"I said this morning that we had made some significant changes to the Bill following the listening exercise, that's the case, and that we didn't see a need for further significant changes. As I say, there are a number of issues here where reassurance is required, and if we can provide that reassurance and get on with implementing the reforms, then that's a good thing."
But the spokesman refused to say whether these changes were significant, having told journalists this morning that the Government would only be accepting amendments that clarified the legislation, rather than making any more "significant changes".
The letter from Mr Clegg and Baroness Williams proposes removing reviews by the Competition Commission from the Bill, ensuring that the hospital regulator Monitor will keep hospitals serving NHS patients first, protecting the NHS from takeover by private healthcare providers, and adding additional safeguards to a cap on the number of private patients an NHS hospital can treat, preventing foundation trusts from focusing on profits above patients.
The pair wrote: "Given how precious the NHS is, we want to rule out beyond doubt any threat of a US-style market in the NHS. That is why we want to see changes made to this Bill that have been put forward by our Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords to make sure that the NHS can never be treated like the gas, electricity, or water industry."
A source close to Mr Clegg said: “We’ve always said there will be no privatisation of the NHS on our watch.
“Nick and Shirley believe that the changes outlined in the letter will leave the Bill in the right place to be passed onto the statute book.”
The Government this afternoon received a boost as it won a vote on a possible conflict of interest facing GPs between financial and medical responsibilities and also defeated an opposition amendment on integration by 21 votes.
But dissent about the legislation among professionals continued, with meetings of the Royal College of Physicians and British Geriatrics Society approving motions calling for the bodies to do more to ensure the Bill is scrapped.