The timetable for implementing reforms of the NHS is “ambitious” but not unachievable, the health secretary has said.

Andrew Lansley has come under fire over the speed of his proposals, which will see GPs take control of the NHS budget from 2013.

Mr Lansley sought to reassure doctors attending a Royal College of GPs (RCGP) conference in Harrogate, promising full support for their new role.

He accused the previous Labour government of having “dithered and delayed in its approach to NHS reform”.

Labour’s approach “fell apart entirely” in the last three years due to a lack of clarity about what ministers were trying to achieve, he said.

“As a government, we will not repeat these mistakes.

“That is why I have been so clear about setting out our ambitions for the NHS, the reforms we will make to achieve these ambitions, and by when we will make the reforms.

“It is true that the timetable is ambitious, but it is not a timetable which is unachievable.

“With two-and-a-half years with which to learn from pathfinder commissioning consortia and establish shadow arrangements, there is ample time for practices that do not yet feel ready, to secure capability collectively.

“These reforms give GPs the overall responsibility for the design of services, which meet their patients’ needs, and facilitate a quick response when failures in those services arise.”

He told GPs he does not intend to burden them with paperwork or involve them in the “minutiae of administration”.

Support will be available from trusts, local authorities or “external partners”.

Mr Lansley said there is almost three years to “consult, dry-run and put reforms into practice on the ground” before GPs take on responsibility.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of his speech, Mr Lansley said he was not rushing the reforms.

“What I’m talking about is a very substantial change, of course it is, but over the course of two and half years and in circumstances where there will be two full financial years, during which first the general practices in consortia will be able to establish how they see it working, and then to actually to see it work during the course of a whole year.”