Stephen Dorrell, Health Select Committee Chair, Says NHS At Risk Of Failing Without Closing Some Hospitals
The Conservative chair of the Health Select Committee Stephen Dorrell has signalled his opposition the government's flagship bill for NHS reform, but stressed that the health service is at risk of failure unless hospitals are closed or services merged as part of a process of "service reconfiguration".
Stephen Dorrell said the NHS would end up like Longbridge, a car factory crippled by strikes in the 1970s and which became "a by-word for resistance to change".
He told an event held by the Policy Exchange think tank on Tuesday: "Longbridge, if you've driven through Birmingham in recent times, now is a housing estate and an industrial estate but it makes no motorcars."
Instead Dorrell said it was time to reconfigure services to suit needs - implying merging wards, closing some hospital departments, and creating specialised centres for trauma and diseases.
Speaking on a panel alongside Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams and former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, the former Conservative health secretary acknowledged that "service reconfiguration" would be difficult, but said it was needed for the NHS to succeed.
"It's a phrase that strikes a chill into the heart of not only NHS managers around the country but certainly elected politicians all around the country. When it is announced that a service reconfiguration is in prospect, what it is in effect being announced is a whole series of petitions, or public meetings, or demonstrations about why what's being proposed to be done to the NHS at that particular level or community is the end of civilisation as we know it."
And he admitted that his party had made a mistake to imply that this would be "slowed down" ahead of 2010's general election.
Significantly, Dorrell said that he did not think the health and social care bill, currently being examined by the Lords, was the best way to ensure services would be reconfigured.
"I'm not a great fan of the Bill for delivering this vision".
Shirley Williams, who has been involved in pressuring the government to make amendments to the health and social care bill in the Lords said her colleagues were "having a ball" with the NHS Bill.
"The Lords are enjoying it. Putting amendment, after amendment, after amendment all very well informed, all very detailed and all in the business of making changes in Lansley's proposals to create something that looks more like the NHS than Lansley ever intended."
And the Lib Dem peer warned that Britons will be "resistant" to any changes to the health service, saying most of the public were "deeply, deeply in love with the NHS and doesn't want it to change."
"How we manage to persuade the public of the need of the great changes in store for them. At the moment their reaction would be to say 'we don't need these changes, we're happy with what we've got, please go away and stop bothering us.'"