Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's controversial NHS reforms have suffered another body blow after a former chief executive of the service branded the plans "a mess".
With the Health and Social Care Bill set to resume its troubled passage in the Lords on Monday, Lord Crisp said the legislation was "unnecessary, confused and confusing".
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Lord Crisp - who was NHS chief executive for more than five years to 2006, and who now sits as a crossbench peer - warned the plans would be counterproductive.
"I think it's a mess, is my straightforward view of it. I think it's unnecessary in many ways and I think it misses the point," he said. "I think it's confused and confusing, and I think it's unfortunately setting the NHS back."
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes confirmed that the party's peers would be seeking to re-write the bill with a series of detailed amendments in the upper chamber. He said they would include measures making clear the NHS would not be subject to European competition law. "Watch this space. You will see a bill that will protect and defend the NHS which was a Liberal idea in the first place," he said.
However, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham challenged the Lib Dems to go further and join with Labour to kill off the bill altogether. "The Lib Dems have supported this damaging bill every step of the way in Parliament. They have had their chance and it's just not good enough to be promising yet more amendments," he said. "That time has passed; this bill is unamendable. It is time for the Lib Dems to get off the fence and decide where they stand."
Chancellor George Osborne said the reforms were essential if the NHS was to remain affordable into the future. He said: "I absolutely believe we need to see the NHS bill through. As the society ages, as we live longer, we have got to have an NHS that can afford new treatments and that's an NHS that offers choice, that brings in different providers."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have already strengthened the Health Bill following the listening exercise and have responded directly to the points raised by the Royal College of Physicians, including clarifying that competition would only be used to benefit patients, never as an end in itself, and strengthening our plans to better integrate health services."
In an article in The Times, Labour leader Ed Miliband urged Mr Cameron to drop the bill and rethink his approach to NHS reform. "Throwing all the pieces of our NHS up in the air and seeing where they land is not the right way to go about reform," he said.
"Only political pride is preventing this Prime Minister from dropping his bill. If he ploughs on, he will not only destroy trust in himself, he will also prevent the real change that the NHS needs."