NICK Clegg pledged to battle for the NHS after hearing the concerns of clinical staff about proposed changes on a tour of Weston Park Cancer Hospital in Sheffield.
The Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister met staff and patients.
Patricia Fisher, clinical director of specialist cancer services, and Gill Marsden, from the hospital’s management team, raised concerns about health secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans to allow private organisations to take on NHS work.
Dr Fisher said: “We’ve spent years building up relationships so patients come in, are seen by experienced nurses and senior medical staff very quickly to ensure they are put on the correct care pathway.
“For any new provider to come in and offer some of the services, it starts to dismantle all that.”
Ms Marsden, business manager for specialist cancer services, said: “It’s the last thing a patient needs, particularly cancer patients. It adds to the angst.”
Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg said his party will not allow their Tory coalition partners to interfere with the principles of the NHS.
He said: “Great Liberals like Beveridge, who created the health service, didn’t set out meticulous details of how the system should work but the principle that the NHS will provide care for you all the time, which you can access for free.
“If people had concerns that the original proposal would fragment the NHS, that’s not going to happen with the Lib Dems in Government.
“We are not going to privatise the NHS. It’s important that the system remains properly integrated.”
He insisted there will be big changes to controversial reforms proposed by Mr Lansley.
“What I have heard in Sheffield has made a massive impression,” he said.
He said that the Lib Dems’ defeat in the Sheffield Council elections and Paul Scriven’s departure as party leader on the authority was a massive loss.
He wants to send a message to city residents who punished his party for national issues.
“After the local elections, we need to redouble our efforts to emphasise to the electorate that this isn’t a Conservative Government and that we are doing different things to help ordinary people,” Mr Clegg said.
He received a warm reception from hospital patients, including Pat Slater, from Stannington, who was receiving chemotherapy on a day ward.
She and her husband Kenneth told Mr Clegg their son Andy has been plastering on an apartment block at Rivelin where the Deputy PM has his constituency home.
Mr Clegg discussed how Mrs Slater was being treated and inspected equipment including Weston Park’s Gammaknife machine, the only one in the world used to perform operations under general anaesthetic to treat brain tumours and other conditions.
He praised the hospital as ‘fantastic’.
Earlier, Mr Clegg joined Roger Draper, chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, to present tennis equipment at St Catherine’s Primary School, Firshill.
The pupils are among more than 1.5 million children nationwide in schools which received free tennis equipment through the Aegon School Tennis scheme. St Catherine’s is the 10,000th school to benefit.
Mr Clegg was among speakers at a debate on climate change alongside representatives from Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, yesterday evening at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane.