Health Sec Warns NHS Must 'Accept Reforms'

Sophy Ridge, political correspondent
Cameron Calls For Summit On NHS Reforms

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has warned the core values of the NHS are under threat unless substantial reforms are made.

As the eight-week "listening exercise" ends, Mr Lansley said he is prepared to accept "substantial and significant" changes to his plans but insisted sticking with the status quo is "not an option".

He argues "the NHS will face a financial crisis within a matter of years that will threaten the very values we hold so dear" unless the Government pushes through changes.

The Health Secretary warns it faces a £20bn a year funding blackhole, and by 2030, the number of over-85s requiring expensive health care is projected to reach 3.5 million, or one in 20 of the UK population.

As a result, the NHS will have to perform an additional two million operations a year and health spending will double to £230bn - the equivalent of £7,000 a second - in real terms, a figure the UK "simply cannot afford", he said.

The Health Secretary's intervention comes on the same day as the British Medical Association (BMA) launches a stinging attack on his plans.

The doctors' union warns proposals for "performance related pay" is "unethical" and threatens to undermine trust between doctors and patients.

Ministers are considering giving bonuses to GPs who demonstrate good financial management.

The BMA's Dr Laurence Buckman said: "GPs are very concerned about the potential conflicts of interest inherent in the health bill.

The BMA's Dr Laurence Buckman said: "GPs are very concerned about the potential conflicts of interest inherent in the health bill.

"They are worried that their patients' trust in them may be damaged unless there are transparent processes in place to ensure confidence that commissioning decisions are being made in patients' best interests.

"We have produced guidance to help shadow consortia ensure that their workings are transparent and can pass public scrutiny, but we want the government to remove the proposal to give consortia performance-related bonuses from the health bill.

"Financially rewarding GPs by directly linking their earnings to their consortium's financial management, particularly when the NHS is under continuing pressure to reduce budgets, is completely unethical."

Mr Lansley's reforms, which would hand over commissioning powers to GPs and extend private sector provision of NHS services, have come under intense pressure after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made them a test of Liberal Democrat ministers' ability to flex their muscles within the coalition Government.

The legislative pause ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron to allow for further consultation comes to an end later this month, with the report of the NHS Future Forum.

Mr Clegg has indicated Liberal Democrat MPs may vote against the Health and Social Care Bill unless proposed changes are watered down in response to the consultation.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Lansley said: "We have always been clear that we are ready to accept any changes - substantial and significant - if they help us improve care for patients.

"When the Health and Social Care Bill comes back to Parliament, people should have every confidence that we will make the changes necessary to ensure the NHS is protected for our future generations.

"We will never privatise our NHS. But if we choose to ignore the pressures on it, 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.

"I will not allow that to happen."

Mr Lansley said that the work of the NHS Future Forum, which brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals, was "critical to getting our reforms right - right for patients, and right for the future of the NHS".

The vision for the future set out by the Government would deliver "a truly world-class NHS, with doctors and nurses leading the design of health services, patients taking more control and budgets controlled by locally-accountable people", he said.

And he warned: "Our health service is facing huge challenges that, if not dealt with today, will almost certainly mean a crisis tomorrow.

"Enormous financial pressures loom large on the horizon, threatening to undermine our health service unless we act now."

However, Labour argues Mr Lansley has failed to make the case for his changes.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said: "Andrew Lansley is just adding to confusion and uncertainty in the health service.

"He makes a case for change but not the Tory-led Government's top down reorganisation of the NHS."