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NHS Reforms Hang In Balance As Vote Looms

Controversial plans to overhaul the NHS hang in the balance as the Government attempts to stave off a rebellion by Liberal Democrat MPs.

The critics have vowed to oppose the plans when they vote this evening. They warn the reforms are “the biggest upheaval of the NHS in its history”.

Under the Health and Social Care Bill, doctors would take over control of the NHS budget from bureaucrats.

They would be able to buy patient care from private companies who will compete for contracts with existing NHS providers.

There will also be closer integration between services in the community and those in hospital.

The Government said the reforms will drive up the quality of care and make it more efficient.

But Lib Dem MP Andrew George said: “The Bill runs the high risk of producing a National Health Service which is driven more by private profit than by concern about patient care.”

Health unions and professional bodies will hold a vigil outside Parliament, as MPs vote on the Bill.

The British Medical Association said the use of market forces to shape services is “misguided”.

Unison claimed the plans will lead to privatisation of the health service, though the Government strongly denied this.

Faced with mounting criticism of the plans, the Prime Minister was forced to pause progress of the Bill through Parliament, and embarked on renewed consultation with the medical profession.

The listening exercise resulted in the Bill being watered down.

The Department of Health has taken the extraordinary step of issuing a “myth buster” to rebut what it calls the “ludicrous scaremongering” over the plans.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said the NHS would continue to be free at the point of use.

“The Bill will both safeguard the future of the NHS and move us closer to a health service that puts patients at the heart of everything it does,” he said.

If the Bill is passed by the Commons, it will be moved to the Lords which could set up a special committee to scrutinise the plans in detail.

Lib Dem grandee Baroness Williams has warned that “the battle is far from over”.