Tory MPs gear up for battle with Clegg in health row

TORY MPs are organising to oppose changes that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to make to the Government’s plans for NHS reforms.

In an e-mail sent to all Tory MPs and obtained by reporters, Nick de Bois, who has previously said the fundamental principles of the overhaul would not be changed, has set out a series of “red lines” from which he says his fellow Tories should not retreat.

He says critics of the Bill have so far “made their voices the loudest”, and calls on his fellow Tories to set out their own red lines – “the principles on which we will not budge”.

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“I am determined that we reclaim the debate over the future of the National Health Service from those who seek to use the Bill as a political tool,” he adds.

The e-mail appears to contrast heavily with Mr Clegg’s plans. He addressed campaigners and charity representatives in London on Thursday and pledged there would be “no sudden, top-down opening up of all NHS services to any qualified provider”.

But Mr de Bois’ e-mail says “Government should do nothing that stands” in the way of any qualified provider, including private companies and charities, providing care.

Mr de Bois also says there should be a clear date – April 2013 – “when statutory responsibility must transfer from the top-down bureaucracy to GP consortia”.

The date is in direct contradiction to assurances made by the Deputy Prime Minister who said there should be “no arbitrary deadline” and that the NHS reforms could be delayed by weeks, if not months – with the Health and Social Care Bill going back to a committee of MPs for further scrutiny so the Government can get it right.

The Bill passed the Commons committee stage at the end of March after two months of discussion before its progress was ‘paused’ as part of the Government’s “listening exercise”.

Mr Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, had added: “I have always said that it is best to take our time to get it right rather than move too fast and risk getting the details wrong.

“We will introduce substantive, big changes. My desire – I think everyone’s desire – is just to get it right.

“The NHS is simply too precious, too important to millions of people in this country to rush things and get it wrong.”

Asked yesterday if the NHS reforms were becoming a Liberal Democrat versus Tory issue, Mr de Bois said: “My e-mail has come into the public domain and obviously I can see why it might be seen like that, but the bottom line is, the key thing here is that the debate which is all about trying to improve outcomes has been dominated effectively by some very loud voices and what I was trying to do was redress the balance, ensure the other points of view were being put across.

“I’m pleased that’s happened, I stand by what I said. I think now as we come to the end of the listening exercise we will wait and see how the Government responds.”