By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - Reform of Britain's state-funded health service will not result in a U.S.-style private system, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday, seeking to win over wary Britons.
The government has taken the unusual step of pausing legislation intended to overhaul the National Health Service (NHS) mid-way through the parliamentary approval process while it consults doctors and nurses angered by the planned changes.
Voters are worried about the fate of the NHS, set up in 1948 and offering free treatment to all, at the hands of a Conservative-led coalition government.
The issue has divided the coalition, with members of the smaller Liberal Democrats wanting reforms to be diluted.
"If you're worried that we are going to sell-off the NHS and create some American-style private system -- we will not," Cameron said in a speech at a London hospital.
The proposals aimed to give family doctors control over 60 billion pounds ($98 billion) of annual NHS spending and to reduce bureaucracy with the loss of thousands of jobs.
In his speech, Cameron said that hospital doctors and nurses would be given a role in commissioning services.
NO "CHERRY PICKING"
Talk of greater competition has prompted concern that private companies will cream off the most lucrative parts and weaken the service.
Cameron said there would be no "cherry picking" of services, but that competition could benefit patients.
"If you go abroad, to Sweden, to Germany, to Spain, you will see lots of different healthcare organisations providing care paid for by the state," he said. "And our NHS has always benefited from a mixed economy of providers."
There has been speculation that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, a Conservative, could lose his job over a perceived failure to explain the changes. Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, have taken over presentation of the policy.
The government has promised real annual increases in health funding when it is cutting spending in other government departments by a fifth.
However, it says that reforms are needed so that the system can cope with an aging population requiring increasingly expensive treatments.
British politicians leapt to defend the NHS in 2009 when it was attacked by some U.S. Republicans as a socialist system to stoke opposition to Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.
However, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband sought to exploit the coalition's problems over the reforms.
"David Cameron has spent a year mismanaging the NHS and the consequence is chaos, confusion and damaged patient care," he told a news conference.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)