British health service reforms to undergo changes

13th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Medical experts in Britain were Monday to back sweeping changes to planned reforms of the state-run National Health Service (NHS), an issue that has inflamed tensions in the coalition government.

The NHS Future Forum, an independent body which has carried out a two-month consultation on the proposals, is expected to recommend significant changes following widespread criticism of the plans.

The government will respond to the recommendations on Tuesday but is expected to agree to make amendments after Prime Minister David Cameron last week signalled there would be "real changes."

Ministers took the rare step of halting the passage of the legislation through parliament to launch a so-called "listening exercise" amid mounting criticism from doctors, unions and even some lawmakers in the coalition.

The proposals, which included opening up the health service to greater private competition, have exposed divisions between Cameron's Conservatives and their junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.

The plans angered many lawmakers in the centrist Lib Dems and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the party leader, will later Monday claim victory in his fight to alter the reforms, telling his party their "voice was heard."

The Lib Dems are struggling to win back ground after they lost support in recent local elections and were defeated in their campaign to persuade voters to back a historic change to the voting system in a referendum.

But the decision to roll back the health reforms has angered the Conservative rank-and-file, many of whom backed the original changes and feel Tory health minister Andrew Lansley has been abandoned by the party's leaders to appease the Lib Dems.

Under the current plans, control for commissioning services would be taken away from local boards and handed to family doctors, and the private sector would be given a greater role in running health services.

In last week's speech, Cameron indicated that changes to the reforms would include giving hospital doctors and nurses a role in commissioning care, as well as family doctors, and only increasing competition in select cases.

The opposition Labour party said the changes would make little difference to the health service reforms.

"These legislation changes will do little to stop the long-term break-up of the NHS and open the door to private companies," said the party's health spokesman John Healey.

© 2011 AFP

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