UK Politics

NHS shake-up: Ed Miliband urges David Cameron rethink

Image caption The health bill is working its way through Parliament

Labour leader Ed Miliband has urged David Cameron to drop his plans to restructure the NHS in England, during their Prime Minister's Questions clash.

Mr Miliband said: "This is a bill nobody wants. It's opposed by the doctors, the nurses and the patients."

"Put aside your pride and arrogance and drop this... unwanted bill," he said.

Mr Cameron said the reforms would improve the NHS and said there were "thousands of GPs across the country" supporting and implementing them.

Under the plans, GPs are being put in charge of much of the NHS budget, while the health service is being opened up to greater competition from the private and voluntary sector.

'Out of touch'

The prime minister said there were 4,000 extra NHS doctors, 100,000 more patients treated, and in-patient and outpatient waiting times were lower since the coalition came to power in May 2010.

He said £7bn of the £20bn savings needed within the health service had already been found, adding: "If we listened to him we'd be cutting the spending in the NHS, scrapping reforms of the NHS and the NHS would be getting worse not better."

He accused Labour of "panicking and backing down the first moment the trade unions say 'no'".

"If you introduce choice, if you introduce transparency, if you introduce competition, if you say the private and voluntary sectors should play a greater role, of course you face a challenge. But that is what doing the right thing is sometimes all about."

Mr Miliband said Mr Cameron was "out of touch" with what was happening in the NHS and he should listen to the views of nurses and doctors, whose unions are now opposing the plans.

The exchanges came as pressure mounts on ministers over the NHS after a critical report by MPs added to the mounting concerns over the Health and Social Care Bill.

The health select committee report said the overhaul was hindering the ability of the NHS to make the savings it needs to safeguard its future.

'Constructive suggestions'

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley defended the changes on Tuesday, saying they were "essential" for improving the NHS.

"The legislation's not completed its passage, the Lords are making many significant and constructive suggestions, and we will take those on-board, but the principles of the bill are widely supported," he said.

Last week, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing, which previously was seen as backing the plans, said the health bill should be scrapped - joining the British Medical Association in moving to outright opposition.

On Thursday, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, an umbrella group of 20 organisations, and unions will discuss what to do about the plans.

The bill is still working its way through Parliament and at the weekend Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the plans must go ahead, despite the fresh criticism from MPs.

A number of major structural changes have already taken place within the health service and senior staff have started to be recruited to head up the new organisations.

Enough GPs have also come forward to set up the new management groups to cover 97% of the country.

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