Status quo is not an option for NHS, says Cameron

16 May 11
The government will 'never, ever take risks with the NHS', but preserving the status quo is not an option, the prime minister has said
By Vivienne Russell

16 May 2011

The government will ‘never, ever take risks with the NHS’, but preserving the status quo is not an option, the prime minister has said.

In a speech to health workers at Ealing Hospital in London today, David Cameron set out the government’s case for reform.

He identified what he saw as problems with the NHS. These included waste and inefficiency, a system that encourages over-spending and props up poor performers, and too much top-down control.

Meanwhile, the demands placed on the service by an ageing population, coupled with the costs of latest drugs and therapies, meant the NHS faced a £20bn deficit by 2015. The only way to close this gap, Cameron said, was to change the service.

Last month, the government announced that the Health Bill would be put on hold to allow ministers time to listen to and reflect on stakeholders’ concerns.

Cameron today said the meetings held so far had been ‘open, frank, productive [and] above all meaningful’.

He added: ‘We are listening – and we will make substantive changes to improve the reforms, based on what we hear.’

But he gave little indication of what these changes might be. There was a hint of a bigger role for hospital doctors and nurses in commissioning and the prime minister stressed that there would be no introduction of competition for competition’s sake.

He added: ‘Let me make clear. There will be no privatisation; there will be no cherry-picking from private providers; there will be no new upfront costs people have to pay to get care… These are red lines we will not cross.’

Hamish Meldrum, chair of the British Medical Association, said he agreed that the NHS needed to change, but added: ‘The Health Bill as it is currently written would make these improvements far harder to achieve, leading to a more fragmented health service, with many hospitals at risk of closure. Whilst we welcome his commitment to listening to staff and to taking them with him, most doctors will not feel able to support this Bill unless it is radically amended.’

The Unite union said the Bill was so flawed it should be scrapped. Rachael Maskell, national officer for health, said: ‘David Cameron wants it both ways with the Health and Social Care bill. He said today there will be no privatisation, no cherry picking of services by private companies and no up-front costs for care, but we question how the prime minister’s “substantive” changes are going to be incorporated into the legislation.’

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