CO-OPERATIVE Party National Secretary Peter Hunt has called on rebel MPs to rally behind the Government's controversial Foundation Hospitals Bill after the measure narrowly received the backing of the House of Commons.
The seven Co-op-sponsored MPs who voted against Bill at the second reading in May did so again this time, but the remaining 23 Labour/Co-op MPs are understood to have voted with the Government.
However despite accepting amendments at the committee stage ? one of which was proposed by Co-op MP Adrian Bailey ? the vote was the closest since Tony Blair came to power in 1997.
With over 70 Labour MPs abstaining, the Government squeezed home with a majority of just 35 thanks to the support of 40 Scottish Labour MPs – a controversial development, given that the Bill will not apply north of the border.
In April, the Co-operative Party NEC wrote to every Labour MP to urge support for the principal of foundation hospitals and emphasised that the party backed the proposed legisation which it said was in tune with the principles of co-operative socialism.
However critics, including the seven Labour/Co-op MPs who voted against the Government last week, claim the Bill will lead to a two-tier Health Service and a creeping ?Americanisation' of UK healthcare.
Said Mr Hunt: "Obviously we welcome the Commons vote in favour of this important Bill, which will make NHS Trusts more accountable to local communities, and more patient focussed.
"We hope that those who have opposed the Government's reforms will now work constructively with Ministers to ensure that the new, decentralised NHS is a success for patients, employees and communities."
He claimed the Bill has been substantially strengthened since its Second Reading and said the Co-op Party particularly welcomed the amendments tabled by Adrian Bailey, which was designed to ensure that Foundation Trusts have a legal duty to encourage participation from the widest possible range of local stakeholders.
Added Mr Hunt: "The existing mutual sector, including the co-operative retail sector, building societies and friendly societies, has a wealth of experience in delivering the culture of democratic participation that needs to be engendered if the new NHS reforms are to be a success.
"The Government, and individual NHS Trusts, should work closely with these organisations over the coming months to make the best use of this expertise."
The party's Policy and Media Officer Oliver Fry added: "We now have the chance for a more co-operative NHS. We've got to support co-operative socialist policies whenever they arise and it is the party's role to make the legislation work as best we can."