Sullen Lansley blinks first in NHS row

By Ian Dunt

Andrew Lansley has confirmed that plans to reform the NHS have been put on hold, in a humiliating statement to the Commons.

With bookies offering short odds on the health secretary was being lined up for a reshuffle and David Cameron and Nick Clegg preparing to try to sell the policy, Mr Lansley cut a sullen and lonely figure in the Chamber as he confirmed the move.

“We propose to take the oppourtunity of a natural break in the passage of the bill to pause, to listen and to engage with all those that want the NHS to succeed,” he said.

“We recognise that the speed of progress has brought with it some substantive concerns expressed in various quarters. Some of those concerns are misplaced or based on misrepresentations, but we recognise that some are genuine.”

The frantic effort to save the policy comes as Ed Miliband delivered a speech saying David Cameron is “betraying the trust” of the public because of the reforms.

“It is an insult to the people who work in the health service, it is an insult to the people who use it and the prime minister should be ashamed of the way he is running the NHS, the proudest institution of Britain,” the Labour leader said.

Miliband speech in full

The reforms, which would see the NHS opened up to competition from private firms and GPs consortia make spending decision, is opposed by medical experts, unions and the Liberal Democrats, although Mr Clegg is thought to support it.

The full extent of opposition to the plans became clear this morning when the right wing organisation Policy Exchange – often branded the prime minister’s favourite think tank – warned against “overly hasty implementation” of the reforms.

With public antipathy towards the bill growing by the day, ministers are increasingly concerned that Lib Dem MPs may vote against it to try and recover support following the tuition fee debacle.

The government is expected to allow GPS to opt out of the commissioning process, prevent private firms from ‘cherry-picking’ the most lucrative parts of the NHS and ensure that the new NHS regulator will prioritise competition on quality of service rather than cost.

But Downing Street insisted there had been no change.

“The speculation is ill-informed and filled with inaccuracies,” a spokesman said.

“The bill has now successfully finished committee stage in the Commons and there is a natural break before it moves to the Lords.

“We have always been prepared to listen, having already clarified that there is no question of privatisation and that competition will be based on quality, and will continue to do so.”

Labour has attacked the proposals in the bill, but much of its focus has remained on the way it was designed.

Mr Miliband has argued that because it did not appear in the Conservative or Lib Dem manifesto, or the coalition agreement, it has no mandate from the public.

“I believe David Cameron is betraying the trust he asked the public to put in him at the election,” he said this afternoon

“The way this Conservative-led government has gone about NHS reform is a disgrace.

“Contradictory briefings to the newspapers from Tory sources, from Treasury sources, from health department sources and – in case we forgot – from the Lib Dems; each one adding to the sense of utter confusion and chaos about a bill that has completed its committee stage of the House of Commons.

“It is bad government. It is not how the future of the health service should be determined.”

Mr Miliband described the NHS as the “jewel in Britain’s crown” and urged the prime minister to scrap the bill entirely.

“Today we hear the government thinks the answer is delay, but going slower isn’t the answer to a bad policy,” he said.

“That’s why I say this: Mr Cameron, go away and think again.”

With Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg now personally taking charge of selling the bill, many commentators have started to look at health secretary Andrew Lansley’s position.

Some media reports suggest Mr Lansley no longer has the ear of the prime minister, who is relying on NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson instead.

Regardless of the veracity of the rumour, the health secretary’s reputation has been badly damaged by his inability to quell discontent over his plans and he has joined Baroness Warsi in the list of Cabinet members who are expected to be moved at the next reshuffle.