Drop health reforms, says Lib Dem

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Indy Politics

A Liberal Democrat MP today publicly called on the coalition Government to abandon its controversial Health Service reforms.

Backbencher Andrew George warned that the Government's proposals to open up the NHS to greater free market competition "undermines the NHS ethos".

In a stinging rebuke to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, he said that saving the NHS was "more important than saving a few egos in the coalition".

Mr George's intervention came after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted he would not allow through changes in the Health Bill unless he was personally satisfied that they would not result in a "disruptive revolution".

The Government has already announced that it is "pausing" the legislation to take account of the growing disquiet over the scale of the planned changes within the NHS.

Mr George said however that they should now accept that they had got it wrong and drop the bill altogether.

"The bill itself should be stopped rather than paused," he said in a press statement.

"Any policy which undermines the NHS ethos through marketisation, fragments services which need to be integrated and which hands executive power to a narrow group of clinicians who are reluctant to take on such responsibilities anyway is destined to fail.

"Any attempt to remove the duty on government to maintain a comprehensive NHS, as this bill does, should be vigorously opposed too."

He added: "Saving the NHS is more important than saving a few egos in the coalition."

Mr Clegg has made the NHS legislation the first test of his promise to deliver a "louder Lib Dem voice" in the coalition Government, following the party's humiliation in last week's elections.

Downing Street disclosed today that the current listening exercise would continue into next month as ministers wrestle with the thorny issue of how far to change Mr Lansley's blueprint for reform.

"It is going to be completed next month," a No 10 spokeswoman said.

"The commitment to the reforms is still strong but what we recognise is that there are some improvements to be made."

Mr Clegg's chief parliamentary adviser Norman Lamb said that it was now accepted by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that significant changes were necessary.

"There is implicit there an acceptance that there has to be substantial change," he said.

"This incident should not be regarded as concessions to the Lib Dems. The fact is that no party won the election. There has to be agreement between the two parties to get legislation through Parliament."

However, speaking ahead of an Opposition day debate in the Commons on the NHS, Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was no popular support for the planned changes and he urged ministers to abandon them altogether.

"This is a bad bill - it is a free market, free-for-all for the NHS. The Government should dump the bill and start again. People don't want this for our NHS," he said.

Tory backbencher Peter Bone said the "sooner we can get rid of the Liberals in government the better".

"I don't think it (the coalition) will go on the full five years, that is for sure," he told the BBC's Daily Politics. "The only reason for the coalition was to come together and sort out the economic mess that Labour had left the country.

"Once that is done there is absolutely no need to continue the coalition.

"I think that last Thursday's results indicate that the coalition will end sooner rather than later.

"It is extraordinary that the Deputy Prime Minister is talking against a policy which he voted for at second reading. What has happened to collective responsibility?

"If it had been a Tory minister who was so out of step with government policy he would have been fired by now. I think the Liberals have got to row in behind the government and stop bleating."

Mr Bone went on: "I think behind the scenes many Tory MPs are very surprised to put it mildly at the suggestion that we give concessions to a party who have just been thumped in a national election."