6 Apr 2011

NHS reforms: Ministers defend health overhaul

Political Editor

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley tells Channel 4 News the Coalition is pausing on NHS reforms “to get it right”, but Political Editor Gary Gibbon asks whether it is like pausing during major surgery.

The Prime Minister joined Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to present a united front against mounting criticism of the reforms, which include handing up to 80 per cent of the NHS budget to GP-led consortiums.

Mr Cameron said the Government would “pause and listen, to reflect and to improve our NHS modernisation plans”. But he said changes to improve the system were necessary.

“We’ve got to make the NHS more effective – pumping in a bit more money and sticking with the status quo is not going to work…We should not charge ahead if we cannot garner support for what we are doing.”

Read more - Special reports: NHS uncovered

‘Changes essential’
He told medical workers at a Surrey hospital that modernisation of the NHS was “essential” if it was to cope with the demands of a rapidly ageing population.

“I believe passionately in our NHS – and I make no apologies about this. For me, this is a very personal thing. I know what it is like to rely on our National Health Service. We will listen and make any necessary changes.

“We’ve got to make the NHS more effective – pumping in a bit more money and sticking with the status quo is not going to work.” David Cameron, Prime Minister

“But no change is not an option. We need to shift money from the backroom to the front line.”

‘PR stunt’
Labour has branded the exercise “an expensive PR stunt”.

Critics fear the proposed changes could create more competition and lead to the closure of some NHS units and the fragmentation of services.

Mr Clegg admitted that while the Government had not yet got every detail right, the Government had taken the “unusual” step of pausing to consult medical workers and improve on the Bill.

“The reforms were designed to reduce bureaucracy, put more power in the hands of communities and give more responsibility to the family doctors who know best.

“Does this mean we have got every detail right? Does it mean we’ve convinced everyone? Of course it doesn’t, and that’s why we are taking the time now to pause, listen, reflect and improve on our proposals.

“In process terms it’s unusual – but then again, so is a Government that actually listens. I care more about getting this right than just getting it done.”

Pause in surgery? 
I suggested to David Cameron in the Q and A session that a "pause for thought" should probably happen before you start a massive reform like this, writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

Surgeons don't pause for consultation halfway through major surgery. He said that was the wrong metaphor because this was evolutionary change not radical surgery.

Read More: Gary Gibbon on the 'Three Amigos' and the worries over health reform

Andrew Lansley told workers the Government “would not cherry-pick” but would work to deliver fairer outcomes to patients:

“We want to continue to listen to, engage with and learn from experts, patients and frontline staff within the NHS and beyond and to respond accordingly,” he said.

The Health Secretary told Channel 4 News: “How many Bills have gone through Parliament un-amended? Very, very few. And the purpose of amendments is to get it right. And what is more important than the NHS? Nothing is more important than the NHS. So getting it right for the NHS is absolutely essential.”

‘Major rethink needed’
The cross-party Commons Health Committee urged a rethink of the proposals, with former Tory health secretary and committee chairman Stephen Dorrell saying it was not a case of merely “minor tweaking” the Bill.

The committee stressed that GPs should not be solely in charge of commissioning services for patients. Instead it pressed the case for nurses and social care workers to play a bigger part in deciding how services should be implemented.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has criticised the reforms as “extremely dangerous”, while Shadow Health Secretary John Healey branded them an “expensive PR stunt.”

“Following days of confusion and contradictory briefing, David Cameron should today make it clear if he is willing to fundamentally re-write his dangerous NHS plans,” Mr Healey said.