David Cameron and Nick Clegg are squabbling over which one of them will get the most credit for watering down the Government's controversial reforms to the National Health Service.
The Prime Minister and his deputy will both claim ownership of the changes when they address separate meetings of their own parties at Westminster today. Mr Clegg will tell Liberal Democrat MPs and peers: "We have achieved all we set out to achieve. It's a job well done."
But Mr Cameron will insist that he and the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have been the driving forces behind the revised reforms when he addresses Conservative MPs elected for the first time last year. Some Tory MPs are furious that the concessions have weakened the role of competition inside the NHS. Others are worried that the Liberal Democrats' claims of victory will "recontaminate" the Tories on the crucial health issue.
The NHS Future Forum, an independent group of health professionals and experts which has been reviewing the reforms, will publish its recommendations today. They are expected to include safeguards to prevent the back-door privatisation of the NHS and stop private health companies "cherry picking" the most lucrative NHS contracts. Monitor, the health regulator, will have a duty to promote integrated care as well as competition. Mr Lansley's target date of April 2013 for GPs to take charge of commissioning services is likely to be dropped and they will share the role with hospital doctors and nurses.
Mr Cameron's attempt to secure parliamentary backing for the stalled Health and Social Care Bill receives a boost today when Baroness Williams of Crosby, who was leading the opposition to the reforms in the House of Lords, comes out in favour of the revised plans.
Writing in The Independent, the senior Liberal Democrat peer says the new blueprint will be "dramatically different" to the original one and that Mr Cameron will be entitled to declare that "the NHS is safe in the Coalition's hands".
Hostility among Liberal Democrat peers had been one of the biggest hurdles facing the NHS shake-up. They had threatened to join forces with Labour and crossbench peers to defeat the Bill. Tomorrow Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg and Mr Lansley will try to put on a united front when they give the Government's response to the forum's report.
Mr Clegg will tell his parliamentary party that 11 of the 13 changes demanded by the Liberal Democrats' spring conference have been accepted and that the other two will be achieved by other means.
Allies said Mr Clegg had been under pressure from the media and his party to show the Liberal Democrats enjoyed real influence inside the Coalition – and so could hardly blamed for saying: "We've won."Reuse content