British PM launches fightback over health service reform

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British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday warned that overhauling the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) was "essential" as he launched a fightback against criticism of the plans.

Launching a "listening exercise" in response to anger from unions and patient groups over the radical plans, Cameron said he was willing to make changes but added wholesale reform was the only way forward.

"The status quo is not an option," he told NHS workers in Frimley, southeast England, during a launch event with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Minister Andrew Lansley.

"Modernisation is not just a good idea to save money and build a better health service. It is in my view essential for a better NHS for our future," Cameron added.

But he also reassured the health workers: "We will listen and we will make any necessary changes."

Major changes proposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition include taking away control for managing budgets from local boards and handing it to family doctors.

The reforms would also see the private sector have a greater role in running health services.

But opposition is growing amid fears more competition will lead to the closure of some NHS units and over the speed at which the government wants to push the plans through.

Successive British governments have struggled against fierce opposition to major reforms of the NHS despite frequent criticism over poor performance.

The NHS, which was launched in 1948 and has grown to become the world's largest publicly funded health service, is committed to providing treatment free at the point of use to anyone resident in Britain.

© 2011 AFP

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