David Cameron defends plans to overhaul NHS in England
David Cameron has defended the coalition’s plans for an overhaul of the NHS in England, as MPs hold their first debate on the bill.
The prime minister said the “biggest risk” to patients was failing to modernise in the face of challenges such as the ageing of the population.
Under the plans, GPs will get control of £80bn of the NHS budget from 2013.
Health unions have denounced the changes and Labour say the Lib Dems may be blamed for any consequences.
NHS workers from around England are expected to protest against the government’s bill in London on Monday.
Under the plans, all 151 primary care trusts and strategic health authorities will be disbanded.
So far, 141 GP consortiums, serving more than half of the population of England, have signed up as “pathfinders” to pilot the new arrangements.
Mr Cameron said “If you look at the growth of the elderly population, look at the new drugs that are coming on stream, the new treatments, if we keep the system we have now and don’t make changes to cut bureaucracy and waste, I think it will become increasingly unaffordable. The risk is doing nothing.”
He added: “Of course, some of the trade unions are nervous about this because it will mean greater choices for GPs and patients. It will mean that, for instance, they will be able to choose between hospitals and between services and sometimes trade unions don’t like that sort of choice.”
The prime minister moved to reassure voters, saying: “There is no privatisation taking place. The NHS will be just like you experience it now – it is free at the point of use, you don’t pay anything, and it is according to your need.
“But I think it is a good thing if patients and their GPs are able to choose between different providers.”
BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said that, despite all the controversy, the government was not anticipating a significant rebellion when MPs vote later on the government’s Health Bill.
The NHS Confederation has warned that hospitals could go bust by opening up the NHS to “any willing provider”.
Critics have also questioned whether GPs have the experience and skills to handle such huge budgets – they will have control of about 80% of the NHS budget.
Tags: Andrew Lansley, Conservatives, David Cameron, National Health Service, NHS, nhs cash shortages, red tape