Nick Clegg has insisted the government’s healthcare reforms did not amount to NHS privatisation.
The deputy prime minister was repeatedly pressed over the coalition’s shake-up of medical services at Commons question time, with Labour MPs lining up to accuse the government of backdoor privatisation.
But an angry Mr Clegg told them: “There will be no privatisation of the NHS.”
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told MPs: “People are worried about the NHS being turned from a public service into a commercial market.”
She urged the government to ditch parts of its Health and Social Care Bill which she claimed were “about profits, not patients” and to which Lib Dems are reportedly opposed.
“He has been talking tough in private but will he say it in public?” she added.
“It’s clear he won’t stand up for the NHS against the Tories. There has been a pause in Parliament but haven’t the Tories told him that on the ground they are forging ahead with this?”
Mr Clegg hit back, telling her the NHS would not be run for profit, saying: “It will not be fragmented, it will be free at the point of use based on need rather than the ability to pay. Full stop.”
He went on: “The principles are less bureaucracy, more patient-centred health, giving greater control to people who know patients best and an ability to decide where money circulates in the system, greater accountability and less centralisation.
“These are worthwhile reforms and they build on many of the reforms the Labour Party itself introduced in government.”
The deputy prime minister explained the coalition’s “pause” on health reform by saying ministers were discussing the revamp with doctors, nurses, consultants and patients.
“What Labour simply can’t get their heads around is that this is a government prepared to listen,” he said.
“Where we think we can improve our proposals we are prepared to do so.”