Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's controversial NHS reforms have suffered another body blow after a former chief executive of the service branded the plans “a mess”.
With the Health and Social Care Bill set to resume its troubled passage in the Lords tomorrow, Lord Crisp said the legislation was “unnecessary, confused and confusing”.
Meanwhile the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) was preparing for an emergency general meeting which could see it ballot its members on whether to call for the bill to be dropped.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Lord Crisp - who was NHS chief executive for more than five years to 2006, and who now sits as a crossbench peer - warned the plans would be counterproductive.
“I think it's a mess, is my straightforward view of it. I think it's unnecessary in many ways and I think it misses the point,” he said.
“I think it's confused and confusing, and I think it's unfortunately setting the NHS back.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes confirmed that the party's peers would be seeking to re-write the bill with a series of detailed amendments in the upper chamber. He said they would include measures making clear the NHS would not be subject to European competition law.
“Watch this space. You will see a bill that will protect and defend the NHS which was a Liberal idea in the first place,” he said.
However, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham challenged the Lib Dems to go further and join with Labour to kill off the bill altogether.
“The Lib Dems have supported this damaging bill every step of the way in Parliament. They have had their chance and it's just not good enough to be promising yet more amendments,” he said.
“That time has passed; this bill is unamendable. It is time for the Lib Dems to get off the fence and decide where they stand.”
After David Cameron warned last week of “chaos” if the bill did not go through, Chancellor George Osborne said the reforms were essential if the NHS was to remain affordable into the future.
“I absolutely believe we need to see the NHS bill through,” he said.
“As the society ages, as we live longer, we have got to have an NHS that can afford new treatments and that's an NHS that offers choice, that brings in different providers.”
But amid widespread criticisms that Mr Lansley had failed to explain his reform programme to the public, another Cabinet minister acknowledged that the case for the bill had not been made.
“All of us, not just Andrew, all of us have to do better in explaining why these reforms are taking place,” said International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
If the RCP were to come out against the legislation, it would bring it into line with the other royal colleges in calling for the bill to be withdrawn.
An online poll conducted by doctors opposed to the reforms found 92.5% of RCP members believed they should now be abandoned, according to The Observer which was given access to the findings.
Dr David Wrigley, one of the co-ordinators, told the newspaper: “This huge opposition to the health Bill we see in our survey flies in the face of the rather placatory approach to the Bill we have seen from many medical royal colleges in the last 18 months, including the RCP.”
An RCP spokeswoman said today: “Tomorrow at our extraordinary general meeting we will discuss whether to formally survey all our 26,000 fellows and members on their views about the Health and Social Care Bill.
“The RCP continues to have serious concerns about the reforms and has been lobbying vigorously for changes to the Bill since its publication.”
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