Health secretary Andrew Lansley has defended planned reforms as it was reported only one in four of Britain’s doctors think they will improve patient care.

Just 23% of doctors agree with Mr Lansley that the changes will lead to higher standards, according to a poll for the Kings Fund.

Two fifths (40%) say patients will not get superior care, and at least 25% “disagree” that the reforms will improve quality of care, while 15% “strongly disagree” about this point.

The doctors’ views are made known in a survey which the King’s Fund health thinktank commissioned from Doctors.net. uk, a social networking website.

The King’s Fund points out that the findings are significant because the 500 GPs and 500 hospital doctors who took part were chosen for being representative - they were not just random, self selecting, respondents.

Doctors are warning that the NHS cannot make the £20bn of savings by 2014 that ministers expect, while simultaneously undertaking a reorganisation that will see England’s 152 PCTs abolished and consortia of GPs assume responsibility for the commissioning of services for patients, the newspaper reported.

About 45% in the survey said it would be impossible for the NHS to keep its focus on improving efficiency while implementing that and other reforms. Only 22% thought the NHS could do both at once.

Mr Lansley said: “Reform isn’t an option, it’s a necessity in order to sustain and improve our NHS. The reforms are far reaching but they also build upon existing designs.

“But we recognise with any significant changes, there may be concerns - that is why we have been consulting on the details.

“We know there is an appetite to understand better what the reforms will mean in practice for individual organisations and patients. That is why we have already announced a programme where GP consortia can start testing these principles.

“Our plans give the NHS and patients a clear direction for the next five years and beyond. We believe that both purpose and pace are vital to improve services for patients.”

NHS Confederation acting chief executive Nigel Edwards said:“Primary care trusts are already beginning to reduce their management costs and capacity. If the reforms are approved, it is crucial that the government gets GP commissioning up and running in time to take over. We must not lose the talent and experience of NHS commissioners before GPs are in a position to pick up the reins. 

“The survey also suggests that there is some way to go to convince hospital specialists that the reforms will lead to greater integration between different parts of the healthcare system. We need to ensure that consultants are part of this process.”