By Ian Quinn
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has promised to make changes to the health bill to reflect the ‘real' and ‘substantive' concerns of GPs and other medical professionals.
In a special announcement to the House of Commons this afternoon, he revealed plans to launch a consultation exercise, expected to run over the next three months and that he will work with the medical profession to help draw up amendments to the bill.
‘We are going to listen and actively engage with people over the coming weeks,' said Mr Lansley, who continued to claim widespread backing from GPs on the ground for the direction of the reforms, but pledged safeguards against the threat of privatisation and to tackle the issue of conflicts of interest.
Pulse exclusively reported last week ministers were planning to table a series of amendments to the bill, in response to growing calls for a change in direction.
It has also been widely reported over the weekend that prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg have intervened to force the new consultation process, with more announcements expected from the PM this week.
Mr Lansley told the House of Commons the consultation would ‘take advantage of a natural break in proceedings', with the Bill moving from the committee stage to the House of Lords, where it will face huge opposition from Labour and rebel Liberal Democrat peers.
He vowed the Government would ‘listen and engage with the people who want the NHS to succeed' and said the feedback would be used to ‘strengthen the reforms through amendments'.
Pulse reported last week the Government is working on a string of amendments to clarify the role of private providers, including safeguards to prevent ‘cherry picking' of services by private firms and moves to reassure opponents that the role of Monitor will be to safeguard quality rather than drive down costs by opening up the market to competition.
Mr Lansley accused the previous Labour Government of having given a ‘preferential deal to private providers' and said the Government was showing it listened to the medical profession, unlike Labour.
He also confirmed the Government planned to speak to GP pathfinders about how they planned to tackle issues including transparency of decision making and conflicts of interest.
Shadow health secretary, John Healey, said the statement showed the Government was in a state of ‘confusion, chaos and incompetence.'
He said: ‘The PM has pushed the health secretary out of the bunker to tell people what they are doing with the NHS. Why didn't the Tories tell people before the election they planned a top down reorganisation of the NHS. Why didn't they tell the Liberal Democrats?'
He asked mockingly: ‘Will this just be a PR exercise of will there be real changes in the plans, or hasn't the PM yet told the health secretary?'
However, Mr Lansley retorted: 'There is nothing sham about this. This is serious business and not a political game.'
RCGP chair, Dr Clare Gerada, told Pulse said she believed ‘the tide was turning' against the proposals and that the Government had finally showed signs it was listening.
‘I think it's great news if this is the case and if he has changed his mind,' she said. ‘We have deep concerns about the reforms, the proposed structures and also the any willing provider policy. We believe the NHS must be the preferred provider, full stop.'Lansley defends NHS reforms, but promises to 'actively engage' with critics