Once more unto the breach: Cameron and Clegg return to NHS reforms

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley have made another attempt to convince NHS workers of the need for reform today, as they continued their ‘listening exercise’.

The three men met representatives for foundation trusts today as the sense of unease over the proposals refuses to die down.

“This listening exercise is a genuine opportunity to pause, reflect and improve our plans for the NHS and I’m impressed at the level of enthusiasm from all those wanting to get involved,” health secretary Mr Lansley said.

The prime minister reiterated his commitment to review the legislation and try and persuade NHS staff to support the proposed changes in a Today programme interview this morning.

“I think we can make further improvements to our policies,” he said.

“It’s a difficult thing for a government to do but I think it’s important to see if we can further improve these policies and at the same time see if we can get full-throated support from those in the NHS… I want to get those on board.”

Last week, nurses voted overwhelmingly to back a motion of no confidence in health secretary Mr Lansley, who has cut an embattled and downcast figure since the health and social care bill was put on pause several weeks ago.

Mr Lansley’s plans would hand commissioning to GPs consortia and make it easier for private firms to compete in the NHS.

Opponents say it would be the first step on the road to privatisation and that private firms would cherry-pick the most profitable operations.

The Liberal Democrats are formally opposed to the reforms. Mr Clegg will have a fight on his hands convincing his MPs not to vote against them by the time the bill returns to parliament.

The deputy prime minister recently wrote to Lib Dem MPs promising that the reforms would not continue until five big tests were met, including preventing big business from cherry picking services and delaying the handover of £60 billion of health spending to the consortia until after 2013.

Mr Clegg will be hoping that efforts to placate health workers themselves will help him control levels of dissent in the parliamentary party.