Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has urged Liberal Democrats to back the Government’s controversial NHS reforms as he announced plans to spend almost £40 million improving Midland hospitals.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, he said Lib Dems should “take pride” in being part of a Government which backed the health service.
And hitting back at critics of the health reforms, he insisted: “This Coalition Government believes in the NHS, and we will stand by it to protect it for future generations.”
Ministers have been forced to accept yet more amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, in a bid to avoid a grass-roots revolt against Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Measures to limit the number of private patients hospitals can treat were added to the Bill as it returned to the House of Lords.
Mr Lansley said the Coalition government had succeeded in cutting unnecessary costs in the NHS, for example by saving money on an IT programme, and ploughing the cash back into measures which will benefit patients directly.
Liberal Democrat activists should support the Government’s health reforms, he said.
“I hope they will be able to take pride in the fact that it’s a Coalition government who said they would increase NHS budget – it’s going to go up by £12.5 billion over four years – that we are a government that said we were going to put a stop to wasteful and pointless expenditures in the past.
“One of the things we came in to do – which the Liberal Democrats were [also] very clear about in their manifesto – was not proceeding in the same way with the NHS IT programme. And that is releasing resources.
“And they no doubt also will be able to take pride in the fact that this is part of a process of modernisation across the NHS.”
Savings have allowed the Government to find £330 million for capital improvements throughout the NHS.
They include £3.2 million for maternity services at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. The cash will contribute to improvements allowing an extra 650 babies to be born at the hospital every year, bringing the total up to 8,000.
There will be a new four-bed recovery area for mothers as well as an eight-bed induction suite for births which need to be induced.
A new high-dependency triage room will ensure new-borns get the best possible treatment. There will also be a new purpose-built fetal medicine department.
And the hospital will also be creating 20 new midwives posts, two new doctors and one new consultant post.
Another £35 million has been found to pay for a new women and children’s unit for consultant-led maternity services at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, Shropshire, and to provide new facilities for inpatient acute general surgery at the Royal Hospital in nearby Shrewsbury, which is run by the same NHS trust.
The Health Bill would cut the cost of administration by £1.5 billion a year – allowing more money to go into healthcare, Mr Lansley said.
“Trusts in Birmingham are receiving an extra £55,309,000 in funding next year. Money that is going straight to the frontline.
“After years of Labour’s bloated NHS bureaucracy, we’ve cut the number of managers by 5,800 and increased the number of doctors by over 4,000. Across the country, every single penny of efficiencies is being reinvested into frontline services, putting you the patient back at the heart of the NHS and giving more power to doctors and nurses.”
He added: “It is the Coalition that has made this scheme possible. And it will make a huge difference to patients. I am proud to be part of a Government that understands how important the NHS is to this country, and that refuses to make the sick pay for Labour’s debt crisis.”
But the challenge facing the Conservatives when it comes to convincing the public was highlighted by an Ipsos Mori poll for the Health Service Journal which put Labour 18 points ahead of the Tories as the party with the best policies on healthcare.
Dan Wellings, head of public health at Ipsos Mori said: “The Conservatives worked hard in opposition to make inroads into Labour’s stronghold of health policy.
“However, since being in government and overseeing the start of major reforms to the NHS, this has been reversed as Labour have once again extended their lead over the Conservatives among the public on having the best health policies.”
Labour is making the most of the Coalition’s difficulties by appealing directly to Lib Dem activists and urging them to rebel against the Health Bill - and their party leader.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Lib Dem activists will not be convinced by Nick Clegg’s posturing and face-saving amendments. Labour is making a genuine appeal to Liberal Democrats who feel the same as we do: stand firm and stand up for the NHS.
“Together, between us, we have the power to stop this Bill and save our NHS.”