Hughes’ comment follows reports that three Conservative ministers have privately criticised his handling of the NHS reforms.
In addition, a health service expert writing in The Lancet has challenged Lansley’s case for reform – saying that far from declining under the previous government, NHS performance significantly improved.
The current political storm follows the call of the Royal College of General Practitioners for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill, which Lansley has claimed will “empower” GPs.
Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Hughes (pictured) said the Health Bill would be improved by amendments currently being tabled by the House of Lords, but was “not the Bill we would have wanted”.
Regarding the Health Secretary, he said: “My political judgment is that in the second half of the parliament it would be better [for him] to move on.”
While the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing had already declared their opposition to the Health Bill, the intervention of the Royal College of General Practitioners was a serious blow to the Government.
Criticisms of the Bill relate largely to the role of competition and the prospects of fragmentation and private sector control.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham commented: “We’ve argued all along that the Government made a catastrophic mistake when it combined the biggest financial challenge in the history of the NHS with the biggest ever reorganisation.”
However, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that history would vindicate Lansley as “the architect of the modern NHS”.
The Government’s position was also challenged by Nick Black, Professor of Health Services Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, whose Lancet paper said Lansley’s claims that NHS productivity had fallen by 15% in the last decade were “a myth”.
According to Black, the productivity measures used by the ONS failed to take account of data on quality improvements, including reductions in mortality rates for specialist procedures: 2.4% per year in adult critical care, 3.3% in dialysis and 4.9% in coronary artery bypass surgery.
The previous government’s waiting time targets – which Lansley had dismissed as “politically motivated” – had reduced the number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons by over 10% per year, Black said.
Notably, the last British Social Attitudes Survey found that 70% of respondents were ‘satisfied’ with the NHS, compared with 34% (the lowest figure ever) in 1997.
Black argued that “to justify the reforms to the NHS that the Conservative Party wanted to introduce, the claim of declining NHS productivity was necessary” – but in reality, “rather than declining, the productivity of the NHS has probably improved over the past decade.”