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Nick Clegg backs Norfolk MP Norman Lamb

PUBLISHED: 02:14 12 April 2011 | UPDATED: 09:41 12 April 2011

Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb

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Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg yesterday threw his authority behind Norfolk MP Norman Lamb after his key aide signalled that he might quit the government over its NHS reforms.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg yesterday threw his authority behind Norfolk MP Norman Lamb after his key aide signalled that he might quit the government over its NHS reforms.

“I couldn’t agree more with Norman. We have to get this right”, he said. “The NHS is too precious. It’s too precious to me, it is too precious to everybody else who relies on it in the country, to not get the principles translated properly into practice.’”

These words contrasted, however, with sustained reticence on the Tory part of the government. An official spokesman for the prime minister refused to get drawn into the controversy. And Conservative health minister Simon Burns stated tersely that Mr Lamb’s views would be taken into account in the listening exercise that the government had launched.

Tensions within the coalition over the plans to scrap primary care trusts (PCTs), and to give GPs’ consortia responsibility for 80pc of the commissioning of treatment and financing in the NHS, were highlighted at the weekend when Mr Lamb spoke in a BBC interview against a “big bang” approach to health service reform.

Calling for a slowing down of the reform process, he called for “evolution, not revolution”. And although he subsequently denied having threatened to quit, he had told the BBC that a situation could arise over the reforms in which “it’s impossible for me to carry on in my position”.

In making that comment, the North Norfolk MP was referring to his role as chief parliamentary aide to Mr Clegg. But he revealed that the DPM had been warned of what he planned to say. And the view that he had spoken with his blessing was confirmed yesterday when Mr Clegg gave him his backing.

In endorsing the essence of his case, the Lib Dem leader also reinforced the impression that Mr Lamb had been involved in a joint operation to impress on the prime minister a need to ensure that the pause in the reform drive will be followed by more than cosmetic modifications to it.

The DPM said the government is “listening” to concerns over the shake-up, and is willing to “change things where necessary’’.

Mr Lamb agreed with the principles of giving GPs more control over commissioning services and stripping out bureaucracy, said Mr Clegg, and neither he nor the Norfolk MP wanted to “reopen the Pandora’s Box of the basic design of a new system”.

“These basic building blocks are still in place,” continued Mr Clegg. “The detail of exactly how you make these principles work in practice are, of course, things that we want to get right... the devil is in the detail. Norman’s got very strong views about a particular aspect of that. Other people have got particular views about other aspects. Yes, it is unusual that a government is saying yes, we are going to have a pause, listen and reflect and change things where necessary. But I think it is a good thing.’’

Ministers announced last week that they were going to “pause’’ the health reforms amid widespread opposition among NHS professionals, patients’ groups and rank-and-file Lib Dems.

A series of listening events are to take place across the country over the coming weeks, and the prime minister and health secretary Andrew Lansley are to speak at a joint engagement tomorrow.

Chris Fisher - page 8

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