NHS reforms worry Lib Dems

By Hannah Brenton

Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms are set to come under increased pressure as Liberal Democrat rebels begin to take a public stance against them.

Two Lib Dem rebels – who broke from their party and voted against the rise in tuition fees – have signed a Commons motion by Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop, demanding caution in the implementation of the reforms.

The motion said positive elements of the bill were “threatened” by increased competition and a lack of accountability.

There have been rumblings on the Lib Dem benches for some time, which are now coming to the surface ahead of the party conference next weekend.

An amendment has been tabled at the conference to oppose the changes – with pressure mounting on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

The two Lib Dem MPs, John Pugh and Andrew George, signed the Commons motion along with four Labour MPs.

Dr Pugh described the changes as “radical” and said they could lead to “chaos” in the NHS. He called for “substantial improvements” to the proposals.

“From the point of view of all the parties of the coalition, and the point of view of the NHS, I’d like to see substantial improvements and changes in the current legislation as laid before parliament,” he said.

The health secretary’s proposals to restructure the NHS would place purchasing power in the hands of local GPs and scrap the current bureaucratic structure of the health service.

Dr Pugh said the changes would cost £1.8 billion, while the aims of the bill could be achieved without the “upheaval”.

“I think this a degree of organisational upheaval is completely unnecessary to achieve their goals,” the Southport MP said.

“You’re spending £1.8 billion to reorganise the NHS and possibly end up in a very similar position to where you started.

“The bill is more likely to lead to chaos and a drop in productivity than a whole sale privatisation of the NHS.”

Mr George said the reforms were “dangerous” and could lead to the “disintegration” of the NHS. He said he wanted to return to the policy of the coalition agreement.

“Most of [the bill] I’d like to see changed – we should go back to the coalition programme and use PCTs as a building block rather than scrapping them completely.

“If you’re trying to go for biggest efficiency savings ever in the history of the NHS, you don’t tear up the architecture at same time.”

The St Ives MP said the reforms gave private providers a “carte blanche”.

“The private sector have been given a carte blanche to bid for anything – there’s no way to protect any service by saying it needs to be integrated,” he added.

“Last year I described [the reforms] as a train crash, but I think it’s going to be worse than that.”