NHS review to prompt push to get health plans on track

Image caption The government has indicated it is willing to make changes to its overhaul of the NHS

An independent review of the planned NHS shake-up in England is expected to recommend significant changes.

The NHS Future Forum, which has carried out a two-month consultation, will make proposals on controversial issues such as competition and the speed of change.

The publication is expected to be followed by a detailed response from the government on Tuesday.

Labour said claims the bill would be substantially changed were "heavy with Lib Dem spin".

However, ministers hope that by acting quickly they will be able to get their NHS reform programme back on track in weeks.

In April the government took the unprecedented move of halting the parliamentary progress of the Health and Social Care Bill underpinning the changes amid mounting criticism from academics, health unions and MPs.

Ministers had originally wanted to hand GPs control of much of the NHS budget, while opening up the health service to greater competition.

Eagerly anticipated

But Prime Minister David Cameron has already indicated he is willing to make concessions by allowing other health professionals a say in the spending of funds, while promising competition will be balanced against encouraging co-operation among NHS trusts, charities and private firms.

The full details of how the government aims to proceed will now be set out over the next two days.

The NHS Future Forum, led by former Royal College of GPs chief Professor Steve Field, has carried out more than 200 listening events with doctors, nurses and patients.

Its report - to be unveiled on Monday afternoon - is expected to largely chime with what Mr Cameron said last week.

However, the details of how the changes will work are being eagerly anticipated to see if the government can garner more support.

Concerns about the plans, which some had claimed could lead to the privatisation of the health service, had opened up divisions within the coalition.

There have also been fears raised about the risks of overhauling a system already under huge financial pressure.

The BBC understands that ministers are hopeful the NHS Future Forum report and the government response will allow them to press ahead almost immediately with the programme.

Officials are working on the basis that amendments could be made to the bill within weeks, allowing the government to kick-start the parliamentary process before the summer.

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, said: "The government must now give the NHS some clarity and enable it to focus on the major problems it faces such as financial pressure and the variability of care.

"It is essential that those responsible for taking key decisions are able to do so with confidence and certainty."

Nonetheless, the political fall-out from the announcement will be closely scrutinised.

On Monday Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected to claim the Lib Dems have got their way in coalition battles over the bill when he meets his parliamentary party.

But backbench Tories have warned against wholesale changes.

Labour has indicated it will be voting against the bill, whatever the changes are.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said that claims the bill would be substantially changed were "heavy with Lib Dem spin".

"My fear is that we'll hear the prime minister claim these are substantial and significant changes, but the long-term ideological plan to turn the NHS into a market, to open up all parts of the NHS to private companies, will remain."

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