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Cameron promises full steam ahead on NHS reforms

Tim Montgomerie


David Cameron was on the Today programme this morning and the lion's share of his interview with John Humphrys was taken up with a defence of Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms. In a letter to this morning's Times (£) the chiefs of six health unions, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, express “extreme concerns” about the “potentially disastrous” Health and Social Care Bill.

Mr Cameron said that doing nothing was not an option. The Prime Minister told Radio 4 listeners that Britain now spends £103 billion on the NHS. Although we spend close to the EU average we are well below EU averages on cancer and heart attack survival rates. He also said that health inequalities in Britain were greater than in Victorian times.

Unless the NHS was reformed and took responsibility for improving public health the consequences for patients were serious. He pointed to the pressures of new technologies and the ageing population. we have to get better value for taxpayers' money.

Echoing an argument that Mr Lansley makes in an OpEd for today's Times* the PM argued that there was little in the Bill that hadn't been tried before. He also resisted the idea that the reforms were being rushed. Key changes are being piloted, he said. GPs will have two years to prepare for the new funding arrangements. Some of the Bill's provisions wouldn't actually be implemented until 2015.

The Prime Minister said that he had full confidence in Andrew Lansley who had been working on these policies for five years. It was a confident and persuasive performance from Mr Cameron although he was on shaky ground trying to explain away the pre-election promise not to reorganise the health service. Few would accept that the Lansley reforms are anything other than a radical change to the way that the NHS is structured. Necessary, perhaps, but certainly a big reorganisation.

Later today Mr Cameron will give a speech defending the Coalition's "complete modernisation" of the public services. He will celebrate the fact that 141 consortia of GP practices, covering half of England, have volunteered for pilot schemes for the fundholding reform which will see these groups eventually directing 80% of NHS spending.

* Andrew Lansley: GP-led commissioning, payment-by-results and use of the independent sector will deliver a better NHS

LANSLEY-ANDREW-LONG "If we want to deliver better results for patients, we must modernise our NHS and start now. With ever-rising demands on services, survival rates for conditions such as cancer and stroke lagging behind our European counterparts and with administrative costs having spiralled over the past decade, there is no alternative. There is a myth that our plans have come out of the blue. They are in fact a logical evolution of tried-and-tested policies initiated by governments of all parties over the past two decades. GP-led commissioning has existed in one form or another for all this time. Payment by results — under which hospitals are paid for the services they actually provide — has existed for most of the past decade, as have Foundation Trusts, which benefit from greater freedoms to deliver care as they see fit. The NHS has always worked with others from the independent sector, from social enterprises and from charities." - Andrew Lansley in The Times (£)

> Read Paul Goodman's verdict on the NHS reforms


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