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Government whip publicly cautions against rushing NHS reforms and calls for the Health Bill to be amended

By Jonathan Isaby

Last Monday Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced a natural pause in the progress of the Government's Health and Social Care Bill in order to take further soundings about it all.

He explained in this morning's Sunday Express that this process will begin on Wednesday, although it was also reported this morning in the Observer that 1,200 Liberal Democrat activists have instructed their party's leadership to "fully respect the declared view of the party" on NHS reform as voted on at the recent Lib Dem spring conference.

Picture 13 On television this lunchtime we have had an unprecedented intervention from Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem MP who is Chief Parliamentary and Political Adviser to Nick Clegg and also a salaried Assistant Whip.

Lamb, a former Lib Dem health spokesman, told BBC1's The Politics Show that change in the NHS was necessary, but that the Bill would not work if it was not amended:

"I think it would be a crying shame if that really important principle [giving GPs more power and responsibility] was lost because we rushed the reform process and got it wrong.

"My real concern is the financial risk of doing it too quickly because then you lose services, patient care suffers... Most of all for those of us who care about the NHS, and I think the whole Government does, we want to make sure it works, we've got to get this right.

Members of the government - as whips are - are not in the habit of going on TV to say that legislation needs to be amended. It is traditionally their job to get it through and persuade and cajole their colleagues to vote for it too and commenting about it in this way is highly unusual.

Lamb acknowledged this in the interview and effectively said he would resign if there were not substantial concessions:

“I've said that if it's impossible for me to carry on in my position I will step down. I don't want to cause embarrassment but I feel very strongly about this issue and I think it's in the Government's interest to get it right the way that I've suggested.”

“We're experimenting with Coalition Government, the first one since the Second World War. I hope that this period for reflection should allow mature debate about how we get these reforms right and that it should be possible for me to speak out and say what I think should happen – evolution not revolution – and in that way I think the Government can get itself off the hook that it's on at the moment. It can get a lot of professionals back on board and most of all it can reduce the financial risk.”

PoliticsHome (£) has further extracts from the interview.

3.30pm Update: Click here to watch the whole interview


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