LONDON Controversial reforms to the National Health Service must go ahead to ensure the future of state-funded healthcare in England, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.
Public disquiet over the planned restructuring of the NHS has turned the plans into a liability for the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, putting pressure on their year-long alliance.
"We save the NHS by changing it. We risk its long-term future by resisting change now," Cameron said in extracts of a speech released in advance.
"Sticking with the status quo and hoping we can get by with a bit more money is simply not an option."
Cameron has promised to make "significant and substantial changes" to the government's Health and Social Care Bill after suspending the passage of the draft legislation in parliament last month.
Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg has threatened to block the bill if the modifications to the plans fail to remove the risk of a "disruptive revolution" in the NHS.
The government is now consulting with health professionals who reject many of the plans for radical change in the NHS devised by Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
In an attempt to regain the initiative over the issue, Cameron has taken over the presentation of the plans from Lansley, whose position is seen at risk as opposition to the restructuring has grown.
According to the extracts, Cameron will tell the invited audience, including healthcare professionals, the reforms are needed to improve patient care and to ensure the cost of new treatments and rising demand from an ageing population do not overwhelm the service.
He said he remained committed to ensuring the poorest received the best care.
"My determination to protect the core principle of the NHS -- that all have access to healthcare regardless of their wealth -- that's got stronger," he said.
Critics say the restructuring is untested and overambitious at a time when the NHS is also being asked to find up to 20 billion pounds of efficiency savings over four years, equivalent to a 4 percent budget cut a year.
Lansley's proposal to increase competition within the NHS to help private companies provide medical services have alarmed many who fear it heralds the end of equal patient access to the cradle-to-grave service, founded in 1948 and employing 1.3 million people.
Labour party leader Ed Miliband says concerns over the changes show the Conservatives "can't be trusted on the NHS."
A government-commissioned review of the plans led by senior doctor Steve Field is due to report next month.