MATT Hancock today revealed fresh plans for a post-Covid shake-up of the NHS – but critics accused him of a "powergrab".
The Health Secretary said the new laws would scrap red-tape and "make the system work" better, insisting:"There is no better time than now".
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Mr Hancock announced a slew of changes to the operation of the NHS – as he plots to "sweep away" legal red tape.
He said the news will mean local areas will have a more joined up system for taking care of local people.
And ultimately he as Health Secretary would be responsible for the direction of the NHS – but would leave day to day operation and clinical decisions to health chiefs.
The shake-up will be seen to undo large chunks of the controversial measures introduced by Andrew Lansley – himself a Tory Health Sectary – less than a decade ago, which gave the NHS more freedoms.
Coming directly following the pandemic, it will be seen as a way to take direct control over things they couldn't do during the crisis.
Mr Hancock told the House of Commons today: "We must support the NHS and the whole health and care system with a framework fit for our times."
He insisted that "medical matters are matters for ministers" and insisted that it was right that the Health Secretary was ultimately in charge of the whole operation.
He said the reforms would merge at least three top bodies into one under NHS England, meaning the "Secretary of State is able to intervene when necessary", arguing it would "give the public confidence it will really work together to respond to their needs".
The fresh white paper would include measures to "free up the system to innovate" with a "more joined up approach" across the NHS.
Mr Hancock also promised that the long-awaited social care plans would be revealed this year – despite repeated delays.
Social care will be a part of the new joined-up NHS approach, he claimed.
According to a leaked report of the details, ministers will have more powers to block the closure of hospitals and overrule bosses.
Under the changes, Government officials could decide to put fluoride in water, impose health warnings on sausages and order the NHS to prevent obesity, it's claimed.
The reforms would reverse controversial changes brought in by David Cameron's coalition government in 2012.
This morning, Mr Hancock appeared on Good Morning Britain, where he said he wants to "sweep away the legal barriers" causing delays and problems for the NHS.
"I want these changes to impact positively on people working so hard right now," he said.
"I understand why people say 'it's not the right moment'.
"There are 26,000 people in hospital with Covid, the health service still working incredibly hard and, of course, delivering the vaccine."
However, he said he "emphatically" believes the change will be positive.
"This is designed to help people on frontline deliver services better," he said.
Labour has hit out at the plans and accused him of a "power grab" at a critical time while the nation is fighting a pandemic.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the government need to "explain how a structural reorganisation in the midst of the biggest crisis the NHS has faced" would benefit patients and drive down waiting times.
He added: "It's an admission that the David Cameron reforms from 10 years ago were an expensive counterproductive distraction.
"The corona pandemic has shown that health and care services can work together without structural reform."
Former Health Sec Jeremy Hunt, who today revealed he had broken his arm while slipping while on a run, said today: “We welcome the announcement from the Health Secretary on plans to reform NHS health and care and the recognition that there are areas where change is a priority.
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“Given the complexities, the details of the reforms will be crucial. As a Committee we will be scrutinising the Government’s plans and will produce a Report ahead of the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "From tackling bureaucracy to driving forward the integration of health and care services, we are rightly considering where changes need to be made to help us build back better."
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