Two protests in defence of the NHS took place outside Parliament on 10 and 11 March to coincide with a parliamentary debate on the Care Bill, clause 119 of which gives sweeping powers to close hospitals without full local consultation.
At the last stage in the Parliamentary process, the government won, with a vote of 288 to 241.
The clause says services can be closed or downgraded within 40 days; it was inserted into the Bill following Health Minister Jeremy Hunt’s failure to close the emergency and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital. Following a large and militant campaign to save the hospital, a court of appeal ruled that Hunt was acting outside his authority.
Now GP commissioning groups can be overruled by the bureaucracy, and no consultation with local authorities will be necessary. The time allowed to consult with the public will be far too short to allow any new and complex plan to be held to account. The government will be able to close “failing” hospitals, without a clear, measurable and consistent definition of what “failing” would mean.
An expected backbench Tory/Lib-Dem revolt petered out.
At the first protest, 70 people gathered outside Parliament to lobby MPs. Andy Burnham addressed the meeting, promising to repeal the Act if Labour come to power and to put the NHS in the hands of clinicians and communities.
The campaign to stop hospital closures now needs to reorganise and rebuild.