Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and other Cabinet members backed Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and said they’d press ahead with a plan to overhaul the National Health Service that’s opposed by doctors’ groups.
The state-run NHS “needs to change -- and that is why I am at one with Andrew Lansley, the reform program and the legislation going through Parliament,” Cameron wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Times newspaper. “There’s too much bureaucracy -- and too much decision-making is led by that bureaucracy rather than clinicians.”
Lansley’s plan to hand health-service management to local doctors and to increase competition has drawn criticism from medical associations and upper-house lawmakers. Though the government has amended the bill to meet concerns, the Conservative Home website, which reflects grassroots thinking in Cameron’s Tory party, reported last week that three ministers had expressed misgivings about the bill or the health secretary.
“I sit on a Cabinet that’s united in wanting to see these reforms through; all the Cabinet voted for it, all the Cabinet supported it,” Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said on Sky News television yesterday. “This bill is important to improve the health service.”
The opposition Labour Party’s health spokesman, Andy Burnham, called on Cameron to abandon the overhaul.
“There are signs of an NHS in increasing stress and this reorganization is only adding to that uncertainty,” Burnham said in an interview on BBC television yesterday, citing growing waiting lists for treatment and job losses. “It’s hard not to conclude that Mr. Cameron is putting his political pride before the best interests of the National Health Service.”
Lansley also got backing from Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Stephen Dorrell, a former Tory health secretary who heads the House of Commons Health Committee.
“Andrew Lansley is absolutely the right person for this job,” Hunt told the BBC. “He will be seen as the architect of the modern NHS in years to come, because of his tremendous bravery in seeing this through.”
Dorrell told Sky the right approach now was for the government to push the legislation through Parliament.
“I can think of nothing that would further undermine and demoralize staff within the health service more than the thought that we’re going to have another six or 12 months’ discussion about how the health service is managed,” Dorrell said.
The deputy leader of Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, suggested that once the bill had been passed, Lansley should be replaced.
“My political judgment is that in the second half of Parliament it would be better to move on,” Simon Hughes, who doesn’t hold any ministerial post, told the BBC. “We need to be careful about the political sensitivities of this coalition.”
--Editors: Alex Devine, Leon Mangasarian
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