Leaders vow to listen on NHS reform
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have pledged to listen to concerns about NHS reforms but warned "the status quo is not an option".
Launching the Government's listening exercise on the Health and Social Care Bill, the Prime Minister stressed the NHS was the nation's most precious asset.
But he admitted the Government had been "charging ahead" with the reforms and must now pause to address worries coming from many quarters, including patient groups, Royal Colleges and unions.
The Deputy Prime Minister accepted it was an "unusual" move to launch a listening exercise when the Bill had already passed its Commons committee stage but said it was "extraordinarily important" the Government got it right.
The pair were joined by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in addressing about 100 doctors and nurses at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey.
Mr Cameron insisted the NHS would not go down the route of a US-style system, with people forced to "take their credit cards along to accident and emergency" before they could access treatment.
The number of people over the age of 85 is set to double in the next 20 years while the cost of advances in treatments and medicines is adding £600 million of extra funding pressure every year, he said.
A new NHS Future Forum chaired by Professor Steve Field, former head of the Royal College of GPs, will look into aspects of the Bill, such as the role of choice and competition for improving quality.
One of the major fears in this week's Commons Health Committee report was that GPs would have too much power and no duty to consult other professionals, such as hospital specialists. Mr Clegg stressed amendments would mean other health workers had a bigger role.
Shadow health secretary John Healey said: "If the Prime Minister is serious about listening rather than PR spin, people will expect root and branch changes to his NHS plans. But while they claim to be listening, the Tory-led Government is in fact still ploughing on with their NHS reorganisation."