DEPUTY PM Nick Clegg told doctors and nurses in Sheffield unpopular plans to reform the NHS would be “significantly and substantially” altered after a public backlash, writes Ben Spencer.
The Hallam MP, quizzed by staff at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, pledged there would be no “privatisation by the back door”.
The Lib Dem leader hopes to reassert his party’s independence within the Coalition Government after their disastrous performance at last week’s council elections.
He told staff: “No Government has the right to change the NHS without greater consent from people within the NHS.
“The legislation will be changed significantly and substantially so you, who have concerns about what we are doing, feel we are doing the right thing.
“We won’t be starting some kind of disruptive revolution for the sake of it.
“Change for change’s sake is not on.
“I would rather have no legislation than bad legislation, no Bill than a bad Bill.”
He said new proposals would be published when the “earnest and sincere listening process” is completed in the coming weeks.
Clinical director of surgery at the hospital, Michael Bell, said he was worried the plans would force state hospitals to compete with the private sector.
He told Mr Clegg: “The thing that concerned us is so-called competition, of competing with private hospitals.
“Our concern is about the cherry picking of operations done in the private sector - they will take the easy operations they can make money from - leaving the NHS to deal with the sick patients who require more extensive care.
“Private hospitals do no training - they don’t train surgeons, they don’t train nurses, they don’t train operating department assistants.
“We as a hospital are at a disadvantage.”
Mr Clegg replied: “We are not going to turn the concept of competition into a guiding dogma. We will not allow cherry picking and we will not allow some to shoulder training costs when others don’t.”
He promised no Lib Dem MP would vote for a Bill he was not happy with.
Constituents last night handed Mr Clegg a 370,000 strong petition calling on him to delay NHS reforms.
Petitioner Geraldine O’Connor, who lives in the Hallam constituency, said: “Nick Clegg has to decide whether or not to dig his heels in to block dangerous changes to the NHS. This is our chance to put pressure directly on him.
“I have a type of epilepsy that means I could have a seizure at any moment. Thanks to the care and professionalism of NHS staff, I live an active and happy life.
“I’m scared because Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans will destroy the NHS.”
Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield also received a copy of the petition, from trainee social worker Hannah Batchelor, aged 28, from Nether Edge.
Mr Blomfield said: “Following the Lib Dem election meltdown Nick Clegg is panicking and being extremely opportunist in trying to play up his differences with Cameron on the NHS.
“The reality is that he and Cameron have backed the NHS proposals from the start and they both have to listen, and scrap this Bill.”