The Bill passed its second reading last week after a three hour debate and days before the new Health Secretary went into self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. Interventions by MPs ran broadly along party lines, with Conservatives generally supportive of the aims of the Bill and Opposition Members (such as the SNP member quoted above) fundamentally questioning the need for and the timing of the significant reorganisation to NHS England that the Bill seeks to bring about.
It will come back to the Commons after the summer recess for line-by-line scrutiny in Committee of its provisions, which mainly focus on: merging and streamlining management bodies within the NHS, setting up Integrated Care Boards and systems, setting up a Health Services Safety Investigations Board and on regulating information standards and sharing in relation to social care. Despite its title, the Bill does not tackle the fundamental question of the funding of long term social care – something of an ‘elephant in the room’ point which several Opposition MPs didn’t fail to point out.
The purpose of this brief blog is not to examine a Bill that runs to more than 200 pages in any detail but instead to set the scene for the second half of this year when the Bill, the government’s plans on long term social care and its response to the recent Health & Care Select Committee report on maternity safety will be front and centre of the agenda for this sector. The ongoing uncertainty about the development of the pandemic over late summer and early autumn and its effect on hospital admissions and on non- COVID waiting lists are other significant factors which could strongly influence the further debates on the Bill and could affect both the nature and the pace of the changes the government is seeking to introduce.