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NHS : Controversial reform passes first test

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Britain’s proposed overhaul of the state-run National Health Service on Wednesday cleared its first hurdle after lawmakers in the lower House of Commons voted in favour of the controversial bill. 

MPs voted for the reforms by 316 to 251, but the bill now faces a difficult passage through parliament’s upper House of Lords.

The bill has split the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and has drawn criticism from the medical profession.

Critics fear the wideranging changes could be a step towards the privatisation o the NHS.

Supporters claim the reforms will afford patients better protection and raise standards by offering a wider choice of health care providers.  Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who was forced by critics to postpone the bill’s passage through parliament in April in order to make amendments, said the shake-up would strengthen the service.

“The point of our health reforms is to put doctors in charge, give patients greater choice and heal the divide between health and social care,” he said at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

“I believe that they will lead to a stronger NHS and better outcomes for patients,” he added.

Four members of the junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, voted against the reforms and a further 11 did not vote.

The most controversial point of the plan would see responsibility for commissioning services removed from local boards and handed to healthcare professionals, potentially widening the role of private providers.

Health Minister Andrew Lansley promised that safeguards would be implemented to limit private involvement and said the reforms were essential to make sure the NHS “is fit to face the challenge of tomorrow”.  Shadow health secretary John Healey accused the bill of “giving health reform a bad name”.

“It’s unwanted and unnecessary,” he added.

“It’s reckless to force through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history at the same time that finances are tight and pressures on the health service are growing.”

London, Sept 7, 2011 (AFP)