Clegg hails Lib Dems over NHS reforms

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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg has risked inflaming coalition tensions by claiming victory for the Liberal Democrats in the spat over NHS reforms.

The Deputy Prime Minister will tell his party next week that he ensured their "voice was heard" and the new package is a "job well done".

The results of a consultation on the controversial health shake-up are due to be unveiled formally tomorrow, but David Cameron has already signalled a series of key concessions.

They include allowing hospital doctors and nurses to take control of commissioning services as well as GPs, and scrapping the 2013 deadline for consortia to start work.

Aides to the Prime Minister have insisted he was the driving force behind the policy rethink, but many Tory backbenchers are furious that their Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been "hung out to dry" to appease Lib Dems.

Mr Cameron is expected to hold a meeting with his MPs in Westminster on Monday afternoon to explain why he believes major changes are needed.

That evening, Mr Clegg is due to tell a gathering of his parliamentary party: "We have achieved all we set out to achieve. It's a job well done."

The Deputy Prime Minister will present a scorecard of changes that were demanded by the Lib Dem spring conference in March.

Eleven of the 13 demands - including improving democratic accountability and preventing private firms 'cherrypicking' profitable services - have been secured, he is to say.

Alternative solutions have been found to meet the remaining two concerns.

A source close to the Lib Dem leader said: "Nick has worked tirelessly in government to get the reforms into a place where he was happy with them.

"We're expecting the parliamentary party to be pretty pleased with the result.

"We have won.

The source added: "Nick said people would hear a louder Lib Dem voice in Government.

"We've spoken loudly and clearly.

"And we've been heard."

Dr Steve Field, the former president of the Royal College of GPs, submitted his Future Forum report recommending changes to the Health and Social Care Bill on Friday.

Ministers will publish the document tomorrow, before the Government formally outlines its response later in the week.

Liberal Democrat former leader Lord Ashdown said he did not want to "shout victory" on the NHS reforms but added he was "celebrating" the deal that had been brokered.

He added: "It's a victory, if it's victory for anything, for the coalition process, for the process of open, sensible Government that arrives at the right conclusion.

"What I think Nick (Clegg) has done has shown tremendous good judgment in this and by the way so has Mr Cameron. I think Mr Cameron's speech the other day in which he laid out the five pledges ... showed an astonishing degree of understanding and if I may say, statesmanship of the way this process has to work."

He added: "Yeah, I think Nick Clegg has played a blinder on this. I don't like declaring victory. This is not a football match. We are not about to defeat our coalition partners.

"We are here to put together sensible propositions through an open process of Government framework in which you listen to the public, you listen to the professionals and you arrive at the right conclusion.

"Am I celebrating today? Yes, I am and I think the Liberal Democrats will be as well."