UK Politics

Tory MP declares NHS reform 'red lines'

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The NHS changes affect only England

Conservative MPs are preparing to oppose changes that Nick Clegg wants to make to the government's NHS overhaul in England, the BBC has learned.

One MP, Nick de Bois, who sits on the parliamentary committee looking at the NHS bill, has set out a series of "red lines" from which he says his fellow Tories should not retreat.

Some of them appear to clash directly with proposals from the deputy PM.

The NHS bill is currently on hold while ministers consider objections to it.

In an e-mail sent to all Conservative MPs, Mr de Bois says there has been talk of "concerning change" to the Health and Social Care Bill from the Lib Dems.

'Reclaim the debate'

He says critics of the bill have so far "made their voices the loudest", and calls on his fellow Tories to set out their own red lines - "the principles on which we will not budge".

"I am determined that we reclaim the debate over the future of the National Health Service from those who seek to use the bill as a political tool," he says.

He tells MPs the red lines should include:

  • The declaration that any qualified provider, including private companies and charities, should be able to provide care. Mr de Bois said: "Government should do nothing that stands in their way", but Mr Clegg said earlier on Thursday there would be "no sudden, top-down opening up of all NHS services to any qualified provider"
  • A clear date - April 2013 - "when statutory responsibility must transfer from the top-down bureaucracy to GP consortia". Mr de Bois said this was "a very reasonable period of time", but Mr Clegg said there should be "no arbitrary deadline"
  • The requirement for all GPs to take on these new responsibilities, right across England. Mr de Bois said "there must be no two-tier NHS", but Mr Clegg said this change should be introduced in a "planned, phased way"

Mr de Bois, thought to represent the views of a number of his colleagues, also says Conservatives should insist upon competition within the NHS to drive up standards, and push for the creation of an independent regulator, Monitor, "to ensure that patients' choices are not being restricted".

He told the BBC the voices of Tory MPs must be reflected as the proposals are scrutinised again and said he was surprised at the Lib Dems' position given they supported the bill during its initial passage through Parliament.

"While I accept there may be some changes on the fringes of the bill, the core principles and pillars of the bill need to remain in place," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

The focus must be on improving choices for patients, he stressed, and not getting "bogged down" in other arguments.

"I believe it is right we maintain the need for qualified, willing providers to join effectively the supply chain in the health service so that we can drive up choice, and through competition of provider, drive up better quality of care to patients."

But fellow Conservative MP and GP Sarah Wollaston said ministers should be listening to what NHS professionals were saying rather than setting out their own boundaries.

"I think this is a shame if we see this as a debate between Conservative and Liberal Democrat," she told Today.

"I don't see it as that. This is a very broad-based listening exercise and let's do the listening.

"The point is that the voice that matters is the voice out in the country - what patient groups and professionals are saying."

'Not thought through'

Mr Clegg said on Thursday he thought the bill should be sent back to MPs to reconsider.

Repeating the bill's committee stage could delay the timetable of reforms scheduled for 2012 and potentially risk the billions of pounds of savings that have to be made by the NHS by 2014.

Mr Clegg said earlier this month he would oppose any regulator which promoted competition, and insisted that Monitor's focus should be on collaboration.

The toughening of his stance on the NHS plans has been widely viewed as a response to the Lib Dems' poor results in the local elections earlier this month.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that "sticking with the status quo" on health is "simply not a serious option" but he has promised "never to take risks" with the health service's core principles.

Labour have questioned whether the proposed bill in its original form can continue, calling it "expensive, bureaucratic, and not properly thought through".

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