Lib Dems: NHS reform is too fast and furious


The Liberal Democrats believe that the pace of government reform within the NHS is having a detrimental effect upon the service it can offer UK residents.

In a speech he will deliver later today at the annual conference of the NHS Confederation, an independent body that represents the organisations that make up the NHS, Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrats shadow health secretary, will claim that the health service is in need of a gradual "evolution not revolution".

Since coming to power in May 1997, the government has pushed 11 health acts and bills through Parliament, as well as 14 health white papers and seven health green papers.

"The NHS is actually suffering from too much reform, too fast. There seems to be a lack of a clear long-term direction. Reforms and restructuring pile up one after another with little time for each to bed in or for any to be properly evaluated. What the NHS needs is evolution. Not constant revolution," Mr Webb will contend.

Last month the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, announced that the NHS deficit had doubled to £512 million, and the Liberal Democrats health secretary believes that this is indicative of the government's short-sighted approach to the health service.

He will say: "The changes that are being are those that will yield a quick win in terms of financial balance, rather than those that necessarily represent the best long-term strategy for delivering improved patient care and greater efficiency."

Ms Hewitt also revealed earlier this week that a further 16 NHS trusts had applied for foundation status, bringing the potential number of foundation trusts in England and Wales to 69, and Mr Webb will say that the government is trying too hard to convince independent financial backing.

"The government's rhetoric is that they want a level playing field, the reality is that in many cases the private sector has effectively been bribed to be part of the NHS market with guaranteed volumes of business and above-tariff prices."

Slightly contradictorily, however, the Liberal Democrats are pressing for a system that grants a greater degree of decision-making to hospitals and GP practices, as well as a greater connection between primary care and social services.

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