Nick Clegg plays down aide's threat to quit

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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg today played down a threat from one of his closest allies to quit over controversial NHS reforms.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the Government was "listening" to concerns over the shake-up, and was willing to "change things where necessary".

But he stressed that his chief political adviser, Norman Lamb, agreed with the principles of giving GPs more control over commissioning services and stripping out bureaucracy.

The comments came after Mr Lamb highlighted tensions within the coalition by branding the proposals in the Health and Social Care Bill "very risky".

Calling for "evolution not revolution", the Liberal Democrat MP suggested he would resign if the pace of reforms was not slowed.

Interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Mr Clegg said he "agreed" with Mr Lamb that "we have to get this right".

GP consortia which were not ready to take over commissioning by the April 2013 deadline would not be allowed to, he said.

But the Liberal Democrat leader said neither Mr Lamb nor his party's restive grass roots wanted to "reopen the Pandora's Box of the basic design of a new system".

"These basic building blocks are still in place," he said. "The detail of exactly how you make these principles work in practice are, of course, things that we want to get right.

"I couldn't agree more with Norman. We have to get this right.

"The NHS is too precious. It's too precious to me, it is too precious to everybody else who relies on it in the country, to not get the principles translated properly into practice."

Mr Clegg said there was "no point having a pause unless you are prepared to make substantive changes at the end of it where those substantive changes are necessary".

Everybody agrees that it is right to put more financial responsibility in the hands of GPs, who know patients best," he said.

"How you do that is... the devil is in the detail.

"Norman's got very strong views about a particular aspect of that. Other people have got particular views about other aspects.

"Yes, it is unusual that a government is saying yes, we are going to have a pause, listen and reflect and change things where necessary.

"But I think it is a good thing."

Ministers announced last week that they were going to "pause" the health reforms amid widespread opposition among NHS professionals, patients' groups and rank-and-file Lib Dems.

A series of listening events are to take place across the country over the coming weeks as Mr Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley seek to demonstrate they are taking criticism and advice on board.