Changes to health bill will be ‘minimal’

The Department of Health has indicated changes to the health bill will be minimal, despite the launch of a two-month “listening exercise”.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley held a show of unity with NHS professionals yesterday where they promised to listen to their concerns, saying the government would “pause, listen and reflect”.

The deputy prime minister said there would be “substantive changes” to the bill, after many Liberal Democrats lined up against the reforms.

But a confidential memo has emerged that draws red lines under many areas of the proposed reforms.

The memo by NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the creation of GP consortia with overseeing independent commissioning boards was not open to debate. Neither was the abolition of Healthwatch and primary care trusts (PCTs).

The changing of all hospitals into foundation trusts was another key element that would not be dropped, he wrote.

The memo indicated that the abolition of strategic health authorities and the introduction of Monitor, the regulator intended to bring competition to the NHS, would both be delayed.

Health minister Simon Burns also told the BBC there were “misconceptions” about the bill, refusing to accept there would be considerable changes.

“It would be inappropriate of me at the beginning of an independent process to start saying categorically what we are definitely going to do,” he said.

The comments and memo are likely to lend fire to Labour’s claim that the “listening exercise” is a publicity stunt.