Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Thursday, 8 September 2011 14:36 UK

Health and Social Care Bill part two

Labour and the Conservatives have clashed over changes to ministerial oversight of the NHS in England.

The government had planned to remove the secretary of state for health's legal responsibility for providing health care in England, but scrapped the plan after a "listening exercise" on its health policies.

As MPs continued their debate on the Health and Social Care Bill at report stage on 7 September 2011, Labour argued that the health secretary's responsibilities would be diminished, even under the revised bill.

Shadow health minister Owen Smith said: "The secretary of state is washing his hands, divesting himself not of the NHS, but of the direct duty to provide a comprehensive health service.

"He is palming off that precious duty that has been placed upon successive secretaries of state and handing it to a quango and unelected commissioning bodies."

Health Minister Paul Burstow flatly rejected the charge, insisting: "It is absolutely not the government's intention to allow the secretary of state to wash his hands of the NHS."

He said the revamped NHS would be led by clinicians rather than bureaucrats, put "quality at its heart", be "open and collaborative" and have "clear, stronger political accountability".

The bill, which contains the government's health service reform plans in England, was recommitted to Parliament in July after the government made a series of changes following widespread opposition among NHS professionals and patient groups.

The changes include adding hospital doctors and nurses to the new commissioning consortia - not just GPs, as proposed by the original bill - and scrapping an April 2013 deadline for the new bodies to take over.

The bill also includes plans to open up the health service to greater competition from the private sector, which unions oppose.

The government says reform is necessary to safeguard the future of the NHS, but Labour claim the plans are ''high-cost and high-risk''.

Watch parts one and three of this debate.

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