Britain agrees to rethink health service reforms

14th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled major changes Tuesday to planned reforms of the state-run National Health Service, after the original plans caused strains in the coalition government.

Cameron said the government was accepting all the key recommendations made by a group of medical experts, who carried out a two-month review of the proposals after they drew widespread criticism.

The proposals faced resistance from the medical profession and many lawmakers in the Liberal Democrats, the junior party in the governing coalition, prompting the government to pause the passage of the legislation through parliament.

Lib Dem dissent, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, threatened to open up divisions between the centrist party and Cameron's Conservatives, their coalition partners.

The government said a plan to introduce more competition into the NHS would now be altered so that competition in providing services would be allowed only when it was judged to benefit patients.

A controversial proposal to hand power for commissioning health services from local boards to family doctors was also significantly changed, so that other health professionals would now be included in the process.

Both changes were made in response to widespread concerns that the original plans would have allowed increased privatisation of the system and would have allowed private companies to "cherry-pick" profitable NHS business.

Cameron dismissed suggestions that the government had made "a humiliating U-turn" and said the "fundamentals of our plans," such as handing more control to patients, doctors and nurses, remained intact.

"But the shape of our plans, the detail of how we're going to make all this work, that really has changed -- as a direct result of this consultation," he told an audience of doctors and nurses at a London hospital.

Clegg, who has come under fierce pressure to stand up to the Conservatives over the reforms, claimed that many of the proposals had been significantly altered.

"You told us you were worried about privatisation through the back door," Clegg said at the press conference.

"So we have made that impossible."

At a triumphant meeting of his party late Monday, Clegg claimed the government's agreement to accept changes suggested by the experts, called the NHS Future Forum, meant the Lib Dem demands had been "very, very handsomely met".

Clegg's party was struggling after suffering heavy losses in May local elections, and the leader was keen to show that he could have an impact on coalition policy.

Some Conservatives are however believed to be angry at the concessions made to the Lib Dems.

© 2011 AFP

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