Nick Clegg backs more changes to NHS reforms in bid to head off Lib Dem anger at shake-up
Lib Dems are opposed to both increasing competition and giving 'favours' to the private sector Royal College of Physicians calls emergency meeting on whether to ballot its members over bill
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has backed further changes to the Government’s NHS reforms today as he attempted to head off Liberal Democrat anger over the shake-up.
In a joint letter with party doyenne Baroness Williams, the Deputy Prime Minister endorsed amendments designed to limit competition in the health service.
Writing to MPs and peers ahead of a crucial debate in the Upper House this afternoon, Mr Clegg insisted that changes put forward by Lib Dems would ensure the NHS 'can never be treated like the gas, electricity, or water industry'.
NHS treatment transformation Nick Clegg (right) is trying to placate his party for supporting the controversial NHS Bill
'Next month we will return to where this process all began a year ago when we meet at our party’s spring conference,' he wrote.
'Once these final changes have been agreed, we believe conference can be reassured that it has finished the job it started last March and the Bill should be allowed to proceed.
'We believe these changes will appeal to those in the House of Lords and the House of Commons who share our commitment to the NHS, and believe it can now embark on the reforms that matter: putting patients at the centre, working with local communities, and responding to the financial challenges of an ageing population.'
Mr Clegg supported moves including scrapping proposed reviews by the Competition Commission, ensuring the NHS was “insulated” from competition law, and toughening up rules capping Trusts’ income from private patients.
And he stressed that the legislation had now been amended more than a thousand times after more than 200 hours of parliamentary scrutiny.
Prime Minister David Cameron speaks, as Mr Lansley looks on, during a round table discussion on the proposed NHS reorganisation at Downing Street last week
A source close to Mr Clegg said the changes to the Health and Social Care Bill would rule out an 'American-style market' in the NHS.
'We’ve always said there will be no privatisation of the NHS on our watch,' the source said.
'Nick and Shirley believe that the changes outlined in the letter will leave the Bill in the right place to be passed on to the statute book.'
It was not clear if the intervention by Mr Clegg had been fully agreed with his coalition partners.
Shortly before the letter was issued, Tory health minister Simon Burns insisted the whole Government backed the Bill 'as amended now'.
'We don’t propose to accept any more amendments, except for those that we have tabled or that are being tabled following agreement with the Government on ways to improve the Bill,' he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE BILL AS IT STANDS…
152 PCTs in England will be scrapped along with the ten strategic
health authorities. In preparation PCTs have merged into 50 clusters and
SHAs have formed four super hubs
GPs to take over management of 80% of NHS budget from April 2013. Some consortia already set upNational board will oversee the new system as well as taking
charge of specialists services. Will be headed by Sir David Nicholson who is current NHS chief executivePatients allowed to choose where they are treated – including free private care if necessaryCouncils and public given new powers to stop local A&E and maternity units closingFar more NHS operations and treatments provided by private companies and charities
Hit squads of matrons sent into hospitals to check on elderly care
Mr Lansley has tabled more than 100 amendments to the
bill, which has been passed by the Commons, in an effort to push it
through the Lords
This morning, Prime Minister David
Cameron’s spokesman said: 'We have made clear that we don’t see any need
for further significant changes to the Bill.'
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s
flagship plans have continued to suffer criticism from professional
bodies and experts despite repeated charm offensives and concessions.
The Royal College of Physicians
(RCP), representing hospital doctors, is meeting today in emergency
session to discuss whether to formally ballot the views of its 26,000
members on the legislation.
An online poll conducted by doctors
opposed to the reforms found 92.5 per cent of RCP members believed they
should now be abandoned, according to The Observer, which was given
access to the findings.
A spokeswoman for the college said:
'The RCP continues to have serious concerns about the reforms and has
been lobbying vigorously for changes to the Bill since its publication.'
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, leaving ministers
looking even more isolated.
In a further blow, former NHS chief
executive Lord Crisp yesterday denounced the reform plans as 'a mess',
saying they were 'unnecessary, confused and confusing'.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham
said: 'Today’s talk from the Lib Dems of minor amendments is too little,
too late. They will only serve to further complicate a Bill already
described as a ‘confused mess’ by a former NHS chief executive.
'Last week, the president of the
Liberal Democrats said the Bill should have been dropped. If that’s what
the majority of Lib Dems believe, NHS staff will be entitled to ask why
they haven’t had the guts to say that to Mr Cameron’s face.
'The fact is they have been sitting on the fence for far too long and have allowed this mess to develop.'
Protesters calling for the Bill to be
killed off chained themselves together to block Abingdon Street by the
entrance to the House of Lords this afternoon.
Campaigner Shirley Murgraff, 81, from
Hackney, east London was carried off by a group of police officers
after refusing to move from the middle of the road.
She said: 'We were there a long time, about an hour, when they came with bolt cutters and said we had to move.
'About four or five officers grabbed
me under my shoulders and by my feet, I was nearly lying down, and
carried me on to the pavement.
'I didn’t think it was necessary but I wasn’t going to move unless they made me.
'Attention needs to be drawn to the real danger that if we don’t stop the Bill, that will be the end of the NHS.'