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UK passes controversial NHS reform bill
The UK parliament has passed a highly controversial health and social care bill that will see the National Health Service (NHS) undergo the most radical reforms in its history.
MPs cast their final vote on Tuesday, passing with a government majority of 88. Over the past year the bill has received over 1,000 amendments in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, reflecting the intense scrutiny the proposed reforms have received both within parliament and among the wider public.
The NHS is the publically funded healthcare system in England with the majority of services up to now having been free for UK residents and legal immigrants, and free emergency care to anyone regardless of their legal status.
The reforms will radically restructure the NHS in order to reduce administration costs by a third, involving significant cuts to the number of health bodies, introduce more competition into services and give GPs control of much of the health service’s budget which exceeds 100 billion pounds ($150 billion AUD) per annum.
Commenting on the task ahead, NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar told The Guardian: "We need to completely redesign NHS services against a backdrop of unprecedented financial pressure, bringing the public and staff with us. We have to do all this with significantly reduced management capacity."
The coalition government (consisting of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) has argued the reforms are necessary in light of the country’s levels of debt and the need to address the rising cost of healthcare associated with an ageing population along with an array of other negative cost and health trends.
The Labour opposition has vigorously opposed the reforms, with the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham declaring his party would repeal the bill “at first opportunity” if they regain power at the next election.
Criticism of the proposed reforms have been widespread in the UK across the healthcare industry, community and consumer advocacy groups, academia and the media.
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