Almost a year into the coalition the Guardian reports this morning on what could be the battle that will truly test the Liberal Democrat’s commitment to the partnership following Norman Lamb MP’s threat to resign as a government whip unless a series of demands on the NHS reforms are met.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley, of course, blocked the Lib Dem MP from becoming a minister in his department after the two had clashed in the run up to the 2010 general election over the financing of long term care for the elderly.
Now as Lansley battles to put forward the coalition’s unpopular NHS reforms that veto is coming back to haunt him. Lamb has the ear of leader Nick Clegg and many within the Lib Dems. He warned on Sunday that he will quit unless major changes are made to the government’s NHS reforms, which will see the abolition of Primary Care Trusts and 60% of the NHS budget put in the hands of GP-led consortia.
Lamb, who is the former Lib Dem health spokesman, has demanded key changes:
• Abandoning the 2013 deadline and adopting an “evolution, not revolution” approach.
• Following the school reforms and allowing GPs to opt into consortiums.
• Keeping “clusters” of PCTs to observe the “performance management” of GPs.
Lamb told the BBC that he accepted reform of the NHS was vital and agreed with handing greater powers to GPs. But he warned that rushed reforms would pose a “financial risk” to the NHS, the Guardian reports.
As Nicholas Watt points out if Lamb wins “Lansley will be a lame, if not a dead, duck. Lamb’s principle demand – that GPs should be free to opt into Lansley’s new GP-led consortia – would be a step too far for the health secretary” and could lead to him going.
If Lansley does lose and go it will ratchet up tensions within the coalition and pressure on David Cameron to defend the interests of Conservatives interests over Lib Dem demands.
Lamb is reported to have briefed Clegg before he let loose. The only wonder is that he waited so long to make his explosive intervention and say what Labour have been arguing for months:
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This adds to the confusion throughout the Conservative-led Government over its handling of the health service. The NHS deserves better. Norman Lamb – Nick Clegg’s Chief Parliamentary and Political Adviser – is now saying what Labour have been saying for months. The Tory-led legislation for the NHS has fundamental flaws and requires radical surgery.”