NHS: Reform message was screwed up - health minister

Anna Soubry Anna Soubry was appointed a health minister in a reshuffle earlier this month

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A newly appointed health minister has said the government "screwed up" its presentation of the controversial changes to the NHS in England.

Anna Soubry has admitted making the comment during a private session at a health conference, just days after taking up her new ministerial post.

But in a statement, she clarified the remark and said she backed the reforms.

"More could have been done" to explain the benefits and "encourage support" from health professionals, she said.

Under the government plans, GPs and other clinicians are to be given more responsibility for spending the budget in England, while greater competition with the private sector will be encouraged.

A host of health groups - including some royal colleges which set professional standards as well as the major unions representing doctors, nurses and midwives - were against the reforms.

'Out of context'

In a written statement released by the Department of Health, the minister denied being opposed to the changes themselves.

"I have always been very supportive of the reforms, and anyone suggesting otherwise is taking my comments out of context," Ms Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe.

"We could have done more when the plans were set out initially to explain the benefits for patients, and encourage the support of health professionals.

"That is exactly why we took the rare step last year of pausing the legislation and holding a listening exercise."

Ms Soubry was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Health Minister Simon Burns at the time the NHS changes were going through Parliament.

Responding to the minister's remarks, Labour's shadow health minister Jamie Reed accused the government of being "completely out of touch if they think the only problem with their NHS plans is one of presentation.

He said: "The government rammed through its wasteful £3bn re-organisation in the face of overwhelming public and professional opposition - these comments will do nothing for patients suffering because of the chaos David Cameron has created in the NHS."

It is not Ms Soubry's first controversial remark since being appointed in this month's government reshuffle.

A few days after she got the job she hit the headlines after telling the Times it was "ridiculous" that assisted suicide is illegal in the UK.

She said it was "ridiculous and appalling" that Britons had to "go abroad to end their life".

The Department of Health later said the views were Ms Soubry's own, and the Ministry of Justice said there were no plans for the government to change the law.

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