The prime minister has defended the government’s proposed reforms to the NHS, saying “sticking with the status quo is simply not an option” if the health service is to cope financially with an increasingly ageing population with long-term conditions.
At a speech in a London hospital in May, David Cameron told an audience: “This government will never, ever take risks with the NHS. It’s because I love the NHS so much that I want to change it, because the NHS needs to change.”
Mr Cameron said that, by 2050, the number of over 65s with one or more long-term conditions “is expected to rise by 252%”.
The prime minister insisted that without reform, the NHS would need “£130bn a year by 2015 – meaning a potential funding gap of £20bn”.
But in response, John Healey MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said the government’s changes to the NHS would “fragment the NHS with a free market free for all undermining the quality, integration and public accountability of NHS services.”
Mr Cameron also said hospital doctors and nurses would be engaged in commissioning, and said: “Let me be clear: there will no privatisation. There will be no cherry-picking from private providers. Absolutely not. These are red lines we will not cross.”
But Mr Healey insisted: “If he really wants an NHS with no privatisation, no new charges for patient services and no competition for its own sake, he must make fundamental changes to his NHS plans because his Health Bill allows exactly this.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg entered the row, calling for NHS regulator Monitor not to have a duty to promote competition, arguing that instead it should promote the needs of patients. “There must be no change in the way competition law operates in our NHS,” he is quoted as saying.
Mr Clegg’s stance opposes that of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who advocates increasing competition within the NHS to push down prices, with Monitor having a new role as an ‘economic regulator’.