Labour MPs protest against NHS changes 'slipped out' before recess

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Officials of the parliamentary Labour Party circulated a confidential note to MPs last night promising they would raise with the Prime Minister the "unprecedented" concern among backbenchers at the changes. It follows an angry meeting of the parliamentary party with Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, on Monday over the changes.

They took up the case again yesterday at a meeting with a Labour backbench health committee.

"I think Patricia Hewitt was taken aback by the depth of the feeling among Labour MPs," said one senior Labour MP who was at the meeting. "They felt railroaded and angry that there had been a complete lack of consultation."

The MPs object to the timing of an announcement in July by Sir Nigel Crisp, the NHS chief executive, on the last day of the parliamentary session before the Commons rose for the summer recess, that trusts were to lose their role as providers of healthcare and would become commissioning bodies.

Some MPs said the proposal had been "slipped out" to avoid protests before the summer. They were also suspicious that the changes were part of a highly controversial plan to bring more private-sector providers of healthcare, including private health clinics, into NHS primary care, competing with GPs.

In an attempt to defuse the row, Ms Hewitt last night issued a statement saying there would be three-month consultation period and a steering group chaired by Michael O'Higgins, managing partner of the international board of PA Consulting Group, would be set up to oversee any changes.