Lansley paves way for NHS climbdown

By Alex Stevenson

“Substantial and significant” changes will be made to the government’s NHS reform plans, Andrew Lansley has conceded.

The health secretary wrote that “people should have every confidence we will make the changes necessary” when the health and social care bill returns to parliament in an article for the Telegraph newspaper.

His pledge to “accept any changes” proposed by the NHS Future Forum, the body of senior doctors reporting its findings since the ‘listening pause’ concluded earlier this week, paves the way for major concessions from ministers.

Mr Lansley is refusing to abandon his proposed reforms outright, however.

“Our health service is facing huge challenges that, if not dealt with today, will almost certainly mean a crisis tomorrow,” he wrote.

“I care passionately about protecting the NHS for the future. This is why doing nothing is not an option. I will not leave the NHS to neglect.”

Analysis: Where will the NHS concessions come from?

Plans to place competition at the forefront of the NHS, by introducing GP consortia with commissioning powers and placing a statutory duty on regulator Monitor to promote competition at the expense of all else, have attracted enormous opposition from healthcare professionals.

Mr Lansley argued that the NHS had to “work smarter” and defended his reforms for putting patients “firmly in the driving seat”.

He flagged up the financial problems faced by the health service. Organisations like the British Medical Association have said the pressure to find £20 billion of efficiency savings is one reason not to implement major change now.

But the health secretary argued the broader problems of the NHS meant action was necessary, as “if things carry on unchanged” real terms health spending would double by 2030 to £230 billion.

“The health service will face a financial crisis within a matter of years that will threaten the very values we hold so dear – of a comprehensive health service, available to all, free at the point of use and based on need and not the ability to pay,” he concluded.

“I will not allow that to happen.”