Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday waded into terrain where past British governments have foundered, promising fundamental changes to the country's expensive and over-stressed public health care system.
Cameron said the reforms would cut red tape and improve treatment, but critics claim they will cause chaos and could lead to backdoor privatization of the much-criticized but widely popular National Health Service.
The British leader, whose Conservative Party heads the country's coalition government, said he would save money and cut red tape by giving control over management to family practitioners rather than bureaucrats, and allow private companies, charities and social enterprises to bid for contracts within the public health service.
Making health care more efficient has proved an elusive goal for successive British governments. The previous Labour administration vowed to reduce waiting times for treatment, and succeeded — but at the cost, say critics, of wasteful bureaucracy.
In a speech outlining the government's plans to overhaul public services, Cameron promised to get rid of "topdown, command-and-control bureaucracy and targets." He said that with an aging population and growing demand for new medical treatments, "pretending that there is some easy option of sticking with the status quo and hoping that a little bit of extra money will smooth over the challenges is a complete fiction."