CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE Shadow health secretary sets out vision for the future

Published: 06/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 7

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley has vowed to build a coalition with the NHS and private sector to force through the Conservative Party's agenda for NHS reform.

The coalition would include healthcare professionals from both the private sector and the NHS, Mr Lansley told HSJ after his speech.

Mr Lansley said: 'It will be a virtual coalition concerned with building a voice for general reform inside the NHS. Over the next three years we are not going to be able to implement reform, but we certainly can influence it with the help of people from within the health service.

'There will be trade union interests, Labour party interests and Liberal Democrat interests who will try to close down choice. Our job is to open up the possibility of reform, even over the next three years.' He added: 'It is a strange thing for an opposition party because they are expected to say they want things to go wrong so they can pick up the pieces. But we can't afford for it to go wrong. The NHS has to succeed. I want to help make that happen.' In a passionate speech at the Conservative conference, a day after he renounced hope of leading his party, Mr Lansley accused the government of stealing Tory health policies after their victory at the general election and urged his party to 'keep fighting for the NHS'.

For the first time in a generation the Conservative Party had put Labour 'on the defensive' about their record on health; 'the bureaucracy, the interference with GPs, the effect of targets, the risk of infection, ' Mr Lansley said.

The Conservatives, he claimed, 'won the arguments on the NHS' and now have to drive the agenda from opposition. 'We have policies and we are going to build a coalition for reform in the NHS.' He said if the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats stood in the way of reform, 'if they are incapable of delivering the benefits of competition, of choice, and the freedoms of the NHS then we are going to push for it'.

Speaking to delegates on Tuesday, he said: 'We are going to keep fighting for the NHS, exposing the truth and pushing the policies.' And Mr Lansley called on the spirit of Margaret Thatcher's government, which 'created Britain's enterprise culture', to help bring innovation and success to the NHS.

The Conservatives would abolish targets and replace them with clinical standards, increase capacity by extending the use of the independent sector and bring back GP fundholding to put GPs 'at the heart' of the NHS, Mr Lansley said.

'Labour have let down the NHS, they have let down the people who depend on the NHS. People have to trust us. They have to trust us for our values and they have to appreciate our motivations.

'That is something over the next four years we are going to have to tell people about and we are going to have to demonstrate to them, ' he added.

'Passports' policy hurt poll chances

Offering to pay half the cost of private treatment for NHS patients hampered the Tory election campaign, Andrew Lansley told HSJ.

Last month the shadow health secretary told the NHS Confederation that he believed the so-called 'patient passport' policy should be dropped, because there will be enough capacity in the NHS by the time of the next election.

Mr Lansley became shadow health secretary in 2003 and had to continue to campaign for the policy which had been introduced by a predecessor, right-winger Dr Liam Fox.

This week he told HSJ: 'Essentially it was a policy I inherited. I could see the practical value of it, but it had the drawback of giving the Labour Party the opportunity to misrepresent our intentions, which always were to give choice to everyone through the NHS.' Tory leadership candidate David Cameron has also criticised patient passports and called for the policy to be axed.

But at a fringe event at the party conference in Blackpool on Monday, Mr Lansley's deputy John Barron told HSJ he still supported the idea.

'It would send a very clear signal to the private sector that they have a long-term role to play in the NHS to the benefit of patients and staff alike, ' he said.

Dr Fox has also cautioned against dropping patient passports, which he said would help bring health outcomes up to French and German levels, where social insurance models fund private providers.

A Tory NHS: the Lansley wish-list

Cut NHS bureaucracy by getting rid of targets.

Give patients choice and more control of their care at every level of the health service.

Give the independent sector the right to supply the NHS, and not through block Department of Health contracts.

A return to GP fundholding so GPs have the budgets and responsibility for ensuring patients have access to the care they need.

Set out the clinical standards the NHS is committed to meet and publish clear information on quality for topics like infection control.

Bring in 'Health Watch', a powerful, independent watchdog accountable to the public as a voice for patients.

Create an integrated public health service to act across public and private sectors.

Cameron's throw-away moment Tory leadership candidate David Cameron has called for an end to the 'patient passport' policy (see story, right).

But in his keynote conference speech (pictured) he made scant reference to the NHS.