Concessions on hospital closures stave off Commons rebellion
Clinical commissioning groups will have power to block attempts to use successful hospitals to resolve failures in others.
Ministers have defused a potential Commons rebellion over future hospital closures by announcing concessions that make it less likely that a successful hospital will be affected by a decision to close a failing one nearby.
Only six Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat MP voted against the government over clause 119 of the care bill on Tuesday. However, in the debate a number of coalition MPs voiced disquiet at the power it contains to allow a trust special administrator (TSA) hired to sort out a failing hospital trust to force through changes at another local hospital if they deem it necessary. That happened when Lewisham hospital in south-east London was included in initial plans to dissolve debt-ridden South London Healthcare Trust. The high court declared the plan illegal.
Dr Dan Poulter, the health minister, said GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that sent patients to successful hospitals would have the power to block that hospital being used to help solve a problem elsewhere if they disagreed.
The former Lib Dem health minister, Paul Burstow, sought to withdraw an amendment he had proposed, which would have neutered clause 119, after being reassured by ministers that TSA procedures would only be used in extreme circumstances of a hospital failing. He will chair a committee of MPs and peers to oversee the drafting of new guidance over the role of CCGs in such situations.
Labour pushed Burstow’s amendment to a vote anyway, though the government won the division by 47 votes.
Clause 119 had proved divisive, with MPs such as the Tory Nick de Bois (Enfield North) declaring that he could not support it, and Labour’s Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) saying “the TSA regime will be used as a steamroller to force through the closure and downgrade of hospital services with limited public consultation using a process which is set up in a way that creates public scepticism and mistrust from the word go”.