UK Politics

Cameron accused of using NHS as 'political football'

Ex-Labour MP Dr Howard Stoate
Image caption Dr Stoate said there were "inherent problems" with the proposed NHS shake-up

An ex-Labour MP who David Cameron claimed supported his health reforms has accused the prime minister of using the NHS as a "political football".

Dr Howard Stoate said his views about GPs powers were "taken out of context".

He was at the centre of a political row on Wednesday after Mr Cameron told Labour MP Angela Eagle "to calm down dear" at Prime Minister's Questions.

He made the comment after Ms Eagle sought to correct remarks he made about Dr Stoate in the Commons.

The clash came after Mr Cameron used comments by Dr Stoate, a practising GP, to defend his controverisal plans to introduce GP commissioning in the NHS in England - plans opposed by doctors and nurses' groups.

Dr Stoate, who stepped down at last year's general election, had previously written that discussions with his colleagues revealed "overwhelming enthusiasm for the chance to help shape services for the patients they see daily".

'Condescending'

But Mr Cameron's suggestion that Dr Stoate had been beaten during the election angered some on the Labour benches, including Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle.

Amid shouts of "he stood down", Mr Cameron paraphrased the famous car insurance advert starring film director Michael Winner, telling her: "Calm down dear, calm down, calm down."

Labour accused Mr Cameron of sexism and showing a "patronising and outdated attitude to women".

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Stoate said the PM's remark to Ms Eagle had been "condescending". But he said he was more concerned that the impression the PM gave about his views on the proposed shake-up of the NHS was "entirely misleading".

He said his previous comments had referred merely to GPs in his local area of south London - not nationally - and that they had had a "head start" over others as they had gained experience of commissioning health services over the past four years.

The government's proposed NHS changes - which ministers are currently consulting on as part of a "listening exercise" with medical professionals - had many "inherent problems", he said.

"The prime minister should stop using the health service as a political football and allow GPs to get on with the job of improving health services," he wrote.

"Indeed, the current focus on GPs is a continuation of the progress made under the Labour government's programme of GP commissioning."

'Modernised'

Critics have said there is little evidence that handing lead responsibility for commissioning to GP consortia will work, that there is too much financial risk involved and the plans should be piloted and not introduced in one go.

Dr Stoate said he continued to believe GPs were "best placed" to break down institutional barriers in the NHS and ensure the highest standards of patient care.

"GPs are increasingly becoming involved in discussing budgets, local healthcare needs, service planning and delivery - resulting in dramatic improvements in services as antiquated ways of working are modernised," he added.

Mr Cameron sought to make light of the "calm down dear" comment - which No 10 has said was a "humorous remark" and should not be "over-analysed" - during a campaign visit to Wales on Thursday.

"I don't know what it is about some people on the left. It seems that when they put the socialism in, they take the sense of humour out," he told Conservative activists.

Ministers have said they are prepared to make major changes to the NHS legislation following the extended consultation, but stressed the NHS cannot be allowed to stand still in the face of rising costs pressure and higher patients' expectations.

David Cameron has accused Labour of "scaring" people about the impact of the proposed changes and said GP fund-holding practices in "90% of the country" want to see the changes succeed.

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