Further coalition tensions have emerged over the Government’s troubled health reforms after Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron said the legislation should have been dropped.
Mr Farron said the legislation to implement Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s reforms should have been scrapped or “massively changed” at an earlier stage before it progressed this far and it would be “stupid” to ignore medics’ concerns over the proposals.
He demanded that all elements of new competition in the NHS should be stripped from the Bill in order for Lib Dems to support it.
Lib Dem peers have tabled a number of amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, which resumes its difficult passage through Parliament next week in the Lords.
Mr Farron said: “Lots of us are guilty for allowing it to get as far as it has done now.
“Basically this should have been dealt with far earlier in the cycle.”
Asked whether that meant it should have been dropped, he said: “Dropped, massively changed.”
Pressed on what should happen now, Mr Farron focused on part three of the legislation and said: “Take out all the new competition in the Bill. If that was to happen then the Bill may as well proceed because then it becomes about democratising and tidying up the mess that was left behind by Labour.”
Mr Farron added: “What I want is for the Lords to introduce changes that will remove the new competition elements from the Bill and I would like the Government to give way on those things. It’s all to play for.”
His comments came after the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPH) called for the Health Bill to be withdrawn just days after attending a Downing Street summit with David Cameron.
Its president, Professor Terence Stephenson, said the RCPH never supported the bill but it was now clear a substantial majority of voting members believe it “carries risk for children and young people”.
He said there was also “deep concern” among the wider health profession and public over the impact of the bill on patient care.
Mr Farron said it would be “absolutely stupid for anybody to ignore what is being said” by health professionals.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have said we will continue to listen as this Bill proceeds through the Lords, but we had a listening exercise last year and as a result many significant changes were made to that Bill.
“We think the reforms are the right ones. It is going to be an ongoing process explaining to people these reforms and, in particular as we implement these reforms, showing how they are working to the benefit of patients.”
Health Minister Earl Howe, who is responsible for taking the legislation through the Lords, said a lot of the concern over competition was “unnecessary and unwarranted”. But he acknowledged there were “worries about competition law which we’ve got to sort out”.
In an interview with Parliament’s The House magazine, he said he hoped to “reach an accommodation” with senior Lib Dem Baroness Williams of Crosby, who has been a high-profile critic of the Bill. “There’s no doubt that the section of the Bill around competition has excited concerns.
“I actually think she is unnecessarily worried. Nobody is forcing competition down anybody’s throat but if you, as a doctor, believe that your patient deserves a better service, then you can justify looking around.”