The government is prepared to make changes to the Health and Social Care Bill, the prime minister said at yesterday's (6 April 2011) launch of a 'listening exercise' on NHS reform.
David Cameron was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to announce a programme of 'engagement' with patients, the public and health professionals over the coming weeks.
Mr Lansley said that this would mainly focus on choice and competition, public accountability and patient involvement, and arrangements for education and training.
The exercise will also consider how advice from a range of healthcare professions can improve patient care.
Mr Cameron said: "I believe passionately in the NHS. It is our most precious national asset. And it is precisely for this reason that we want to safeguard the NHS for future generations. But we also recognise that there are some big questions about what we're doing.
"This listening exercise is a genuine chance to make a difference. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation, those changes will be made. But let me be clear, it is only through modernisation that can we protect the NHS and ensure the country has a truly world-class health service."
Mr Clegg said: "The NHS is our most cherished national institution and this government will never waver from the basic principle that you get treatment when you need it, not when you can afford it.
"At the heart of our reforms are some simple common sense ideas – less bureaucracy, more power to local communities and more responsibility to those who know most about their patients. These ideas stay true to the vision of the founders of the NHS.
"But there are concerns that need to be addressed and some people have come forward with good proposals to improve our plans. That is why we are taking the time to pause and listen so we can build a better NHS for the future."
Andrew Lansley also announced that a new group of patient representatives, doctors and nurses and other health professionals will be brought together to listen and report back to the government.
Chaired by Birmingham GP and former RCGP Chairman Steve Field, the new 'NHS Future Forum' will seek to gauge the thoughts and opinions of patients and staff on the ground.
Mr Lansley said: "Good progress has been made so far in modernising the NHS, such as the 6,500 GP practices and 90% of local authorities signing up to play their part in improving services for patients.
"We are taking the opportunity of a natural break in the passage of the Bill to pause, listen, reflect and improve. This will help realise our ultimate goal of modernising the NHS to protect it for the future.
"This is an opportunity for people to share their views and have their voices heard."
Professor Field said: "It's a great pleasure to chair the NHS Future Forum. Listening to people on the ground is vital, and I see this as a real chance for people to have their say in shaping the future of the NHS."