NHS reform scaled back after review
The Government has unveiled big changes to its controversial reform plans for the NHS after accepting the key recommendations of a panel of health experts.
Following an unprecedented "pause" in legislation prompted by unease among health professionals and Liberal Democrat MPs, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's proposals to extend competition in health provision have been significantly scaled back.
Prime Minister David Cameron said "we have listened, we have learned and we are improving our plans".
But Labour accused the Government of wasting billions of pounds by pressing ahead with an unnecessary reorganisation at a time when waiting lists are rising.
Shadow health secretary John Healey said the rewriting of the Health and Social Care Bill was a "humiliation" for Mr Lansley and called on him to apologise to patients and NHS staff.
The Health Secretary - who faced jeers and laughter from the Labour benches as he set out the revised plans to the House of Commons - insisted that the Government's decision to commission the NHS Future Forum to reassess its plans "demonstrated our willingness to listen and to improve our plans".
He said the amended Bill, which will be sent back to committee stage in the Commons with the aim of becoming law by next spring, contained "big changes" but did not abandon the principles of reform in his original plans.
Mr Cameron said he now wanted to take the reforms forward in a "spirit of unity" with NHS staff.
"The fundamentals of our plans - more control for patients, more power to doctors and nurses, and less bureaucracy in the NHS - are as strong today as they have ever been," he said. "But the detail of how we are going to make this all work has really changed as a direct result of this consultation."
Key changes, detailed by Mr Cameron, Mr Lansley and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg during a visit to Guy's Hospital in London, include: nurses and consultants to be included on the boards of new GP groups responsible for commissioning healthcare services, stronger safeguards against a "market free-for-all"; additional safeguards against privatisation and to prevent private companies "cherry-picking" profitable NHS business, and dropping the 2013 deadline for the introduction of commissioning groups, which will only become operative "when they are ready".