Tuesday News Review

Even Cameron’s family disagree with NHS reforms

David Cameron’s health plans suffered a devastating blow yesterday when his brother-in-law blasted the Government’s ruthless dismantling of the NHS. The Prime Minister admitted his sister Tania’s husband Dr Carl Brookes had said: “You’re giving too much power to GPs, and hospitals will be disadvantaged.” Dr Brookes refused to comment when The Mirror approached him at his Basingstoke office. But by 7pm, No.10 issued an astonishing U-turn statement on his behalf, saying: “I am supportive of the reforms of the NHS. Clinicians should be more closely involved in decisions about where the money goes. I support the aim of reducing the overall management costs of the NHS and the measures designed to allow that.” The Prime Minister’s initially damning admission came as the Tory-led Coalition tried to force the Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament in the face of mounting opposition. On a day of blunders, Mr Cameron also admitted that district hospitals could close as market forces are unleashed throughout the health service. He said: “People like their local hospital and as long as they go on using it, it will remain open.” But in opposition, he had promised to keep hospitals open, saying: “We believe in them, we want to save them.” Shadow health secretary John Healey said: “The Prime Minister’s brother-in-law is one of three in four doctors who don’t believe this high risk, high cost reorganisation will improve services for patients.” – Daily Mirror

David Cameron has admitted that his brother-in-law, a leading doctor, is uncomfortable with the Government’s radical plan to reform the National Health Service. The Prime Minister disclosed that Dr Carl Brookes, a specialist in heart disorders, believes the upheaval will give too much power to family doctors while leaving hospitals worse off. His off-the-cuff comment during a visit to a health centre was seized on by opponents of the controversial proposals, just hours before a critical debate in the House of Commons. Mr Cameron had spent most of Monday morning defending the Health and Social Care Bill, which will see GPs handed control of £80billion of the NHS budget and given the choice to purchase care from state-run hospitals or any private providers. Royal colleges, professional bodies, trades unions, think-tanks, charities and doctors themselves all fear that patient care will suffer as decisions are taken on the basis of cost rather than quality, while expertise will be lost as two tiers of management are scrapped. After the Prime Minister’s comment was picked up by reporters who were accompanying him, the Shadow Health Secretary, John Healey, said: “This reveals just how far and wide the concerns are with the Tory-led government’s plans for the NHS. “The Prime Minister’s brother-in-law is no doubt one of the 3 in 4 doctors who don’t believe this high-risk, high-cost reorganisation is going to improve services for patients.” A survey for the Royal College of GPs found that only 32 per cent of its members approve of the Government’s plans, while 43 per cent of GPs believe the reforms will not improve health outcomes such as cancer survival rates. – Daily Telegraph

Cameron blinks first to end Lords stand-off

A referendum on changing the voting system will go ahead on May 5 following a deal to end weeks of deadlock in the House of Lords. Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, said ministers had agreed to offer Labour a ‘package of concessions’ in order to get the legislation through in time. The move follows the controversial use of delaying tactics by Labour peers who are opposed to changes that will cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. That measure is part of a package that is aimed at bringing in the alternative vote system in place of the current first past the post. The concessions represent a climbdown for David Cameron who had threatened privately to bring in unprecedented ‘guillotine’ measures to the Lords, which would have allowed the Government to curtail debate to force the measure through. But he was forced to retreat after independent Crossbench peers – and some on his own side – made it clear they would not support the move. Instead ministers are now poised to agree a string of concessions demanded by Labour. These will include allowing public inquiries into the massive boundary changes that will be needed to reduce the number of Parliamentary constituencies to 600. – Daily Mail

A 15-day stand-off in the House of Lords over the Government’s constitutional reform plans appeared to be at an end last night after the Coalition announced a “package of concessions” to break the deadlock. Lord Strathclyde, the leader of House of Lords, said significant progress had been made between Tory and Labour peers to end the impasse. The marathon committee stage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, which saw peers debate through the night last month, will now end on Wednesday. In return for Labour agreeing not to delay the committee stage further, Lord Strathclyde has promised a “package of concessions” at the report stage of the Bill. Among the proposals thought to be on offer is the suggestion that public inquiries take place where boundary changes are contentious. There is also likely to be some sort of post-legislation scrutiny of the reduction to 600 seats and a greater variation of seat sizes – a key demand of Labour. The Bill, which cuts the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, must become law by 16 February for the referendum on adopting the alternative vote (AV) system to take place as planned on 5 May. The Government had threatened to attempt to take the historic step of guillotining discussions on the Bill if agreement could not be reached in time. The move would have been unprecedented, ending the constitutional right of peers to determine how much time they spend scrutinising legislation. Labour sources claimed that David Cameron “blinked” after BaronessD’Souza, convener of the non-aligned peers, said peers might as well “go home” and “cease to exist” if the Prime Minister moved to put a time limit on the upper house. This was denied by the Coalition. – the Independent

Another voice to the chorus asking for a Plan B

The U.K. government should delay painful deficit-reduction measures to support the recovery as the economy is likely to grow only modestly over the next two years, a leading economic research group said Tuesday. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, or NIESR, said it expects the economy to grow 1.5% this year and 1.8% in 2012, after expanding 1.4% in 2010. It estimates the economy is currently operating about 4% below its potential. “Given that margin of spare capacity, there is a case for promoting the recovery by postponing at least some of the austerity program,” the institute said in its latest quarterly economic review. “The cost of delay would be acceptable because borrowing costs are currently low.” – Wall Street Journal

One of the nation’s leading economic authorities today adds to the pressure on George Osborne to execute a U-turn on his economic policies. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) urges the Chancellor to “ease off” spending cuts and consider tax rebates if the economy shows signs of a further sharp slowdown and says there is “a case for delaying some of the austerity programme but accelerating planned increases in the state pension age”. The NIESR adds that there will be no real-terms rise in house prices until 2013, allowing for general inflation, and that households will suffer a fall of 0.8 per cent in their disposable incomes this year. UK growth will be “only” 1.5 per cent, it says. In a blow to the credibility of the Government’s plans to reduce the country’s debt levels, the NIESR also predicts that Mr Osborne will fail to meet his goal of eliminating the structural budget deficit by the end of this parliament, albeit narrowly. The Institute warns: “The debate over the timing and scale of the consolidation is not over. In these circumstances we would argue for a delay in consolidation. Governments act slowly and expenditure cuts on goods and services appear to be delaying themselves.” Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “It’s time for George Osborne to get his head out of the sand, look at the facts and rethink his reckless plan to take another £20bn out of the economy in April on top of the VAT rise. He needs a plan B and he needs one quick.” – the Independent

Should Labour be doing better?

YouGov president Peter Kellner today warned Labour they should be “miles ahead” in the opinion polls as anger over the coalition cuts continues to grow – rather than “a measly five points” in front of the Conservatives. Labour, however, have been ahead in 23 consecutive YouGov polls conducted since mid-December, leading 43%-39% in the weekend Sunday Times survey, with yesterday’s Angus Reid/Sunday Express poll giving Labour an 11-point lead – 43%-32% with the Lib Dems on 11%, leaving the coaltion and Labour neck-and-neck. Kellner writes:“Labour is now the only major, Britain-wide opposition party. It should be harvesting voters’ discontent in huge numbers. Instead its support is stuck on the low 40s, while the Tories continue to attract roughly the 37% support they achieved in last year’s election. It is the Lib Dems, of course, who have suffered badly; much of Labour’s rise since last May can be attributed to progressive Lib Dem voters unhappy to see their party in bed with the Tories, rather than voters generally converting disapproval of the Government’s performance into support for Labour.” – Left Foot Forward

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