UK Politics

Andrew Lansley hits back over NHS bill

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMr Lansley rejects claims he's lost the support of Conservatives over the NHS bill

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley says the government is "committed" to the NHS bill, amid reports that three Tory cabinet ministers have concerns.

Tim Montgomerie, of the grassroots ConservativeHome website, said he was prompted to write a critical editorial by the ministers' intervention.

Mr Lansley said his party was "working together" on NHS reform in England.

He denied that he personally had lost Conservative support - as Labour said the bill should be dropped.

There has been speculation about his position following continuing opposition to the bill, which applies to England, from medical professionals' groups.

'Political problem'

Asked if he would resign to get the bill through if necessary, he said: "No... we as a government are committed to supporting the NHS.

"This legislation has been supported by the House of Commons, supported by the House of Lords, the bill has been amended to take account of many changes."

He said the changes had backing from GPs already running clinical commissioning services and local authority chief executives.

"We as a government are committed, not just to this legislation, it's not about the bill as such - it's about what the bill enables the NHS to achieve in the future."

Mr Lansley, who was heckled on a visit to Edinburgh, said he and the government believed in the NHS - but it had to be modernised to deliver "the best care in the future".

"Across the Conservative Party, in the coalition government working together, and indeed working right across the NHS, we know that the NHS matters for the people of this country."

His comments follow an editorial by Mr Montgomerie, whose website describes itself as "independent of the Conservative Party but supportive of it", that argued putting the NHS back at the centre of debate was David Cameron's biggest mistake as PM.

In an interview with the BBC, he would not name the ministers he said had contacted him with concerns.

But he said: "This is something that has come from three members of the cabinet. Over the last 48 hours I've been speaking to a lot of people inside the Conservative machine, inside the Conservative team and there's huge concern about the NHS bill."

He said the NHS was going to have difficult years ahead, because of tight spending but the risk was now that every problem would now be "blamed on the bill".

The Health and Social Care Bill introduces the biggest shake-up since the founding of the NHS in 1948, putting GPs in control of much of its budget and encouraging greater competition with the private sector.

The government has put forward 136 amendments in recent days - in a bid to head off a rebellion by Lib Dem peers as it goes through the House of Lords.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTim Montgomerie said he could not find a senior Tory who thought the NHS plans had been handled well

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said there had been a debate within the coalition about whether the bill was necessary for some of the changes to be implemented.

Earlier Health Minister Simon Burns dismissed the reported opposition of three Conservative cabinet ministers as "tittle-tattle" and said modernising the NHS was more important than "the noises off".

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he was "certainly not" one of the three unnamed ministers, adding: "I don't believe there are three doubters. I believe that the cabinet is behind the health secretary."

But Lib Dem MP John Pugh - who has criticised the bill - told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the ConservativeHome report "chimes entirely with what I myself have learned in conversations with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the last few days".

And Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Nurses, doctors and patients have been telling David Cameron for months that he's on the wrong track on the NHS and now even members of his cabinet are as well."

He said the prime minister was "out of touch" for sticking with the bill: "He should drop this bill, which is wasting billions of pounds on a bureaucratic re-organisation of the NHS and threatens a creeping privatisation of the National Health Service."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites