Monday News Review

GPs urge NHS reform rethink

The leaders of Britain’s 42,000 family doctors are warning David Cameron to radically overhaul the government’s unpopular health plans or risk them wrecking the NHS. The Royal College of General Practitioners has written to the prime minister demanding major changes are made to the health and social care bill. It is undergoing a two-month “pause” while Cameron, his deputy, Nick Clegg, health secretary Andrew Lansley and a panel of health experts undertake a listening exercise designed to improve Lansley’s plans, which have drawn much criticism. In a strongly worded submission – the first by a major health organisation during the renewed consultation – the college urges Cameron to remove or substantially amend many of the bill’s central proposals to radically reorganise the health service in England. Without a major rethink, the NHS will cease to be a truly national service, postcode lotteries in care will be exacerbated and foreign firms will use EU competition laws to take control of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, it says. – the Guardian

Clegg fakes fury over NHS

The Deputy Prime Minister said in January that he was behind the plans to “put patients right at the centre of the NHS”, but now claims he will not ask his party to back a “revolution” of the health service. David Cameron is allowing him to rip up the Health Bill as part of a deal to shore up the Coalition, risking a Cabinet split with Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, who last night looked a likely scapegoat. The Conservatives believe they have engineered a deal with Mr Clegg that saves his face with his party after devastating election results last week, but which also solves the Prime Minister’s problem with the NHS reforms. Mr Cameron was resigned to changing key parts of the Health Bill, announcing a “pause” last month. Allowing Mr Clegg to claim some credit is part of a Downing Street strategy to help Mr Cameron’s poorly performing deputy. Mr Lansley may find his own position difficult if Mr Clegg gets his way in delaying the timetable for changes in the way GPs operate. He could find himself the victim of a reshuffle next year, although Mr Cameron has so far remained fiercely loyal. – the Telegraph

Let’s make no mistake. The Tory leadership is allowing Nick Clegg to claim the credit for the NHS u-turn but there is no great unhappiness in Number 10 at the policy switch. George Osborne, in particular, has been worried for some time that the Lansley reforms could become deeply unpopular and imperil the Conservative party’s chances of re-election. But it’s just as likely that the NHS will imperil Tory election chances if it isn’ t reformed… This doesn’t mean that the Lansley reforms are the right reforms (I don’t feel qualified to make that judgment) but there are no easy options for the government on the NHS. No reform or half-hearted reform certainly doesn’t tackle the NHS’ fundamental efficiency problems. – Conservative Home

Labour looks for answers on Scotland

Ed Miliband was facing growing questions last night from Labour’s Blairite faction over his leadership after the party’s mixed performance in last week’s elections. The Labour leader first has to oversee the inquest into the party’s catastrophic results in the contests for the Scottish Parliament. He is also being urged to spell out more clearly his strategy for reaching out to middle-class voters in the South of England after Labour’s failure to make headway in the Home Counties. Mr Miliband yesterday argued that the party had reached a “staging post” in its recovery, while Shadow Cabinet members insisted the English results showed the party was making progress, after Labour gained more than 800 council seats in England. But figures on the right of the party believe it should have had a greater impact given the grim economic backdrop to the elections. One leading Blairite said: “Strategically, Labour is completely lost. Ed won the leadership as an insurgent but, now he’s there, he doesn’t know what to do next. It’s all looking very reminiscent of Gordon in 2007 when he finally toppled Tony. They have grabbed control, but now do not know what to do with it.” – the Independent

Cameron and Salmond row over referendum

David Cameron and Alex Salmond were at loggerheads last night after the Scottish National Party leader claimed to have free rein to dictate the terms of a referendum on the break-up of Britain. Mr Salmond said the Prime Minister has promised not to interfere in the vote on ending the 304-year-old Union between England and Scotland, giving him total control over its timing and the question on the ballot paper. Government ministers confirmed Mr Cameron promised not to deliberately erect “obstacles” to the referendum, during a telephone conversation following Mr Salmond’s landslide victory in last week’s Scottish Parliament elections. However, they made clear that Mr Cameron at no point gave the Scottish First Minister “carte blanche” over the vote and it was “inevitable” the Westminster Government will have a say. The Daily Telegraph revealed on Saturday that Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, a former Tory Scottish Secretary, has urged Mr Cameron to call a snap referendum now rather than let Mr Salmond decide the most politically advantageous time. – the Telegraph

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