PM defends public service reforms
David Cameron has strongly defended the Government's controversial NHS reforms, warning that ministers could not afford to delay essential modernisation of Britain's public services.
In a keynote speech at the Royal Society for the Arts in London, the Prime Minister flatly dismissed the idea that the NHS could carry on as it was, supported by small amounts of additional public spending, as a "complete fiction".
His intervention came as doctors' and nurses' leaders joined health trade unions in warning that plans to create greater commercial competition between the NHS and private firms within the service were "potentially disastrous".
The Government is due to set out its detailed proposals on Wednesday in the Health and Social Care Bill. The Education Bill - which will allow parents, businesses, and other organisations to set up academies - follows next week.
Mr Cameron rejected suggestions that the Government was trying to do "too much at once" in pushing through public service reforms and said the NHS was facing enormous pressures in order to meet the needs of an ageing population and the demand for expensive new drugs and treatments. Failure to modernise, he said, would drain away scarce resources.
"Every year without modernisation the costs of our public services escalate. Demand rises, the chains of command can grow, costs may go up, inefficiencies become more entrenched," he said. "Pretending that there is some 'easy option' of sticking with the status quo and hoping that a little bit of extra money will smooth over the challenges is a complete fiction. Put another way: It's not that we can't afford to modernise; it's that we can't afford not to modernise."
At the same time he sought to reassure staff, insisting he wanted to "revere, cherish and reward" public service, while acknowledging that previous Conservative governments had shown "insufficient respect" for the public service ethos.
The signatories, including the heads of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, said there was clear evidence that price competition in healthcare was "damaging".
RCN chief executive Peter Carter said: "This reform programme could come off the rails as people concentrate on saving money rather than delivering quality care. Continuing down this path could have a disastrous effect on patient care."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the Government's plans would lead to the "destruction" of quality services across the public sector. "We are not talking about a few years of economy as the deficit reduces, but a systematic and permanent reduction in services," he said.