ANDREW Lansley was forced to brush off questions over his future last night as senior Tories turned against his controversial health reforms and anger over a £600m redundancy bill.
The Health Secretary insisted he would not quit and Tory deputy chairman Baroness Warsi said it was the “duty” of party members to back the reforms amid mounting pressure for David Cameron to call a halt to the changes.
Tim Montgomerie, editor of influential grassroots Tory website ConservativeHome, urged the Prime Minister to re-think after claiming three of the party’s Cabinet ministers had “rung the alarm bell” about reforms which are opposed by many professional bodies within the health service.
He claimed if the reforms go wrong it could cost the Tories the next election, while there was further criticism last night from health workers and Labour after it emerged the NHS is budgeting to spend more than £600m this year on redundancies as a result of the reforms.
But despite one of his Tory cabinet colleagues reportedly calling for him to be replaced, Mr Lansley insisted he should not resign in order to save the changes.
“That is not about me, that is about us as a government,” he said. “It is because the NHS matters so much, because we believe in the values of the NHS, we have to be prepared to reform.”
Mr Lansley has faced mounting speculation over his future after a Downing Street source was quoted earlier this week as saying he should be “taken out and shot” for mishandling the reforms.
The Government has already been forced to make more than 100 changes to the Health and Social Care Bill since it was first introduced but has failed to quell concerns from professional bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The reforms aim to put more power into the hands of GPs and professionals but Mr Montgomerie claimed the shake-up has been David Cameron’s “greatest mistake” and said there is a “feeling” the Prime Minister “isn’t listening” to the party.
He said three Tory cabinet Ministers had told him of their unease, saying: “One was insistent the Bill must be dropped. Another said Andrew Lansley must be replaced. Another likened the NHS reforms to the poll tax.” But Tory Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi, the Dewsbury-born Peer, responded with an article in which she said it was the “duty” of Conservatives to support the bill.
“The Health and Social Care Bill represents the most radical decentralisation of power that the NHS has witnessed in its history,” she said.
However, critics seized on estimates from the Department for Health that show an expected £616.6m will be paid out this year in redundancies as a result of the reforms.
The changes are expected to lead to between 9,100 and 16,800 job losses.
RCN policy head Howard Catton said the redundancy costs were “huge”, but the Government said the short-term costs were “dwarfed” by long-term savings of £1.5bn a year if the reforms go through.
Last night Labour leader Ed Miliband turned up the pressure on Mr Cameron, accusing him of making a “profound mistake”.
But the frustration felt by many health professionals with the layers of bureaucracy in the NHS is exposed today by Paul Muller, a retired consultant surgeon from Sheffield and Barnsley.
Writing in today’s Yorkshire Post he suggests the organisation has far too many managers with “titles that mean nothing”.
He writes: “Because of the dire financial state that we are in, instead of closing wards and hospitals and libraries and old age homes, we must get rid of most of the managers in the NHS and councils – and start looking after each other.”
Comment: Page 16; Opinion & Analysis: Page 17.