Minister: tell us your fears about NHS reforms – but we might not listen

A Cabinet show of unity over the Government's controversial health reforms was undermined when the Department of Health declined to confirm that a "listening exercise" would change the plans.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley joined forces in an attempt to woo health professionals into supporting Mr Lansley's plans to transfer 60 per cent of the NHS budget to GPs. But cracks emerged only an hour after their carefully-choreographed appearance at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, where they promised to "pause, listen and reflect" but insisted the status quo is not an option.

Downing Street sources endorsed Mr Clegg's pledge that the rethink would be followed by "substantive changes". Mr Cameron is expected to order Mr Lansley to give councillors a role on the GP-led consortia that will commission services instead of primary care trusts (PCTs)—a key Liberal Democrat demand. More health professionals such as hospital doctors and nurses will be added to the commissioning bodies and limits imposed on competition to allay fears about "back door privatisation."

But Simon Burns, the Health Minister and Mr Lansley's deputy, refused to accept there would be substantive changes, saying there were "misconceptions" and "misrepresentations" about the reforms. "It would be inappropriate of me at the beginning of an independent process... to start saying categorically what we are definitely going to do," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

Mr Lansley is insisting that the handover to GPs goes ahead in April 2013 as planned. He appeared defensive about watering down his plans but hinted at some changes in four areas: choice and competition; public accountability and patient involvement; education and training to support the modernisation plans and involving different healthcare professions to improve patient care.

The Prime Minister stressed: "We will listen and we will make any necessary changes." Describing himself as "passionate" about the NHS, which he said was Britain's "most precious national asset", and re-called his experience while his family cared for his disabled son Ivan, who died aged six in 2009. "I make no apologies about this but for me this is a very personal thing. I know what it's like to rely on our NHS. I know what it's like to put people you really love in the hands of doctors and nurses and carers in our hospitals," Mr Cameron said. "I know what it's like to turn up in the middle of the night desperately worried and wanting the very best health care free at the point of use from our excellent NHS in Britain." Similar comments after Mr Cameron became Tory leader in 2005 helped to calm voters' fears about his party's commitment to the NHS before last year's general election. Yesterday's remarks showed that Mr Cameron believes they need to be reassured again.

Mr Clegg, who believes the reforms are now back on track, said: "It's right that family doctors are in the driving seat; they know their patients best. But there have to be safeguards. And there will be."

An "NHS Future Forum", led by Steve Field, former chairman of the Royal College of General Practioners, will allow NHS staff to express their views at events around the country.

But Labour and health unions dismissed the "listening exercise" as a PR stunt. Jill Walker, a biomedical scientist who has worked at Frimley Park for 29 years and chairs the staff union body, said after yesterday's event that Mr Cameron had failed to address "the real fears and general unrest" among NHS workers. "It did not reassure me at all that the Government would listen," she said.

A letter-writing and email "Save our NHS" campaign, organised by the Armchair Army, is targeting media outlets and MPs. It claims the Coalition have launched the review because of next month's council elections.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there