David Cameron signalled yesterday that the overhaul of the National Health Service could be delayed in the face of resistance from doctors and nurses.
He promised "proper and substantive" changes to the planned reforms and made clear that hospital doctors, as well as GPs, would be involved in commissioning NHS care.
Ministers have been bruised by the resistance to the plans of the Royal College of Nursing, which last week passed a vote of no-confidence in the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, and the British Medical Association.
The Government has called a "pause" in the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill to listen to worries over the moves to abolish primary care trusts and hand over most of their budgets to GPs.
Mr Cameron insisted that there would be no retreat from the plans' fundamental objective of reforming the NHS to respond to the growing pressures. But he suggested that plans to complete the reforms by 2013 could be relaxed, telling Sky News: "It's much more important to get this right than to stick to your original timetable in every way."
Insisting that the Government's listening exercise was not a PR stunt, he said: "We are looking at proper and substantive changes because we want to get this right, [the NHS] is such a precious national asset. There will be some real changes, some real improvements, but I think it is true to say that just staying where we are, the status quo, is not a realistic option."
He said hospital doctors would be given seats on the new commissioning bodies. "The worry is when they hear the words 'GP commissioning', they think it is only GPs that are going to be involved in commissioning.... That isn't the case."