UK Politics

Lansley recognises 'genuine' concerns about NHS plan

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Media captionHealth Secretary Andrew Lansley: "No change is not an option"

Andrew Lansley has acknowledged there are "genuine concerns" about the NHS shake-up in England - amid accusations the policy is in "chaos".

The health secretary said ministers were "listening" and would now "pause" to allow further consultation.

Plans which would give GPs control of about 60% of the NHS budget and allow more private firms to provide care have come under cross-party criticism.

Labour's John Healey accused Mr Lansley of "confusion, chaos and incompetence".

The Health and Social Care Bill, currently going through Parliament, is the largest piece of health legislation since the NHS was created.

It would allow groups of GPs' consortia to decide what health care to buy - something currently done by primary care trusts - putting £60bn of the health budget into their control by 2013.

'Legitimate concerns'

The plans would also allow doctors to buy care from "any willing provider", including private companies and voluntary groups. Currently private firms do very little NHS work, but under the plans which actively promote greater competition, many predict this will increase.

The government says the changes will help the NHS meet challenges like a growing elderly population as well as international benchmarks on cancer survival and dementia diagnosis.

But critics say changes are being done too quickly and some have attacked the bill as a way of privatising the NHS.

Mr Lansley said the bill had made good progress through Parliament but people had "legitimate concerns and issues" and the government wanted to "move forward with the support" of NHS staff.

He said: "We recognise that this speed of progress has brought with it some substantive concerns. Some of those concerns are misplaced or based on misrepresentations but we recognise that some are genuine.

"I can therefore tell the House that we propose to take the opportunity of a natural break in the passage of the Bill to pause, listen and engage with all those who want the NHS to succeed, and subsequently to bring forward amendments to improve the plans further in the normal way."

He told MPs competition must be fair and private providers would not be allowed to exploit the new system and "cherry-pick" the most profitable services.

And he signalled there could be changes when it came to opening up the NHS to private providers, adding emergency units "clearly will never be based on competition".

Listening exercise

The government was "committed to listening and we will take every opportunity to improve the Bill" but he added: "No change is not an option."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said ministers were preparing to change their plans to see off their critics before the bill goes to the House of Lords where it may face more opposition.

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Media captionWatch: Mr Miliband said the changes would make it harder to meet the challenges of the future

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg are expected to join a "listening exercise" designed to reassure doctors and voters about the bill before it returns to the Lords after May.

Lib Dem MPs and peers met for several hours on Monday evening to discuss the NHS plans.

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said they would present Nick Clegg, who was not present but was represented by his aide Norman Lamb, with a list of changes they want made to the Bill.

A source said the party wanted progress on three areas, accountability, the involvement of councillors and how to stop private firms "cherry picking" work.

A source told the BBC Mr Lamb had told the meeting there would be no "US-style privatisation of the health service on our watch".

In the Times, Conservative MP and former health secretary Stephen Dorrell accused the government of losing control of its health policy.

Labour accused the government of creating a "crisis of confidence" in the NHS with a "wasteful" and unnecessary reorganisation.

In a speech in London on Monday, party leader Ed Miliband said GPs could "play more of a role in commissioning", but the idea of transferring all commissioning "lock, stock and barrel" to GPs "without it being properly tested... doesn't make sense".

Labour did see a role for private companies within the NHS, but the proposals "take us into a whole different arena" and are "ideological and reckless", he said.

The Labour leader also attacked "horse-trading" between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and "contradictory briefings to the newspapers" which had created "utter confusion and chaos".

At their spring conference last month, Lib Dems voted to amend what they called the "damaging and unjustified" shake-up of GP services, including more scrutiny of GP consortia.

Doctors have also criticised the plans. At an emergency meeting with the health secretary this month, the British Medical Association stopped short of rejecting the bill altogether, but urged ministers to "adopt an approach of evolution not revolution" towards the NHS.

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