Northwich GuardianHealth reforms clear final hurdle (From Northwich Guardian)

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Health reforms clear final hurdle

Northwich Guardian: Health workers demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament against the Health and Social Care Bill Health workers demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament against the Health and Social Care Bill

The Government's controversial health reforms have survived their final Parliamentary test and are on the verge of becoming law.

The Health and Social Care Bill will reach the statute book once it has received royal assent from the Queen. The legislation's protracted journey through Parliament, which began in January last year, ended as MPs agreed to more than 370 changes made in the House of Lords.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the "fight will go on" against the Government's shake-up of the NHS in England and he promised to repeal the measures if Labour returned to power, adding: "We have given this fight everything that we had. All I can say is our fight will go on to protect and restore this party's finest achievement."

The legislation is aimed at reducing bureaucracy, increasing patient choice and giving greater control over NHS budgets to GPs.

But critics argue that the reorganisation should not be taking place at the same time as a major cost-cutting drive and warn that it will increase the involvement of private health providers, leading to the fragmentation of the NHS.

The Bill has tested the strength of the coalition, with widespread concern among Liberal Democrat activists, and has strained the relationship between the Government and health professionals.

The Bill completed its progress after Labour failed in an 11th-hour attempt to block the reforms until an internal assessment of their risks is published. The Commons voted 328 to 246, majority 82, against Mr Burnham's attempt to derail the legislation.

Mr Burnham accused the Government of gambling on the future of the NHS in England without letting the public know the potential risks by refusing to publish the transition risk register document, despite the Information Commissioner ruling it should be disclosed.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley accused Labour of "political opportunism", adding civil servants needed a "safe space" in which to advise ministers without the fear that their words would be published.

He said: "Publication of the risk register would prejudice the frankness and integrity of the decision-making processes of government and the Government is opposed to their publication."

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