Andrew Lansley has been dropped as the UK health secretary just months after his controversial reform of the National Health Service became law.

He will now become Leader of the House of Commons, being replaced by Jeremy Hunt, the former culture secretary who became embroiled in the Leveson enquiry into press ethics. Mr Lansley was the architect behind the government’s highly controversial Health and Social Care Act, which became law in April, that abolished the old NHS management system of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities.

These will be replaced by Clinical Commissioning Groups next April, made up primarily of family doctors.

The reforms also put more emphasis on competition in the NHS at the expense of integration. They were introduced in the summer of 2010, but as both professional and public opposition to the plans grew, the UK government was forced into a rethink last year.

After a ‘listening exercise’ it decided to water down some aspects of the reform, putting less onus on the use of competition and adding other healthcare professionals to the CCG groups. These changes were accepted - for the large part - by the medical community – but an irrevocable rift had been created by the process, as all major nursing and doctors’ groups had bitterly opposed these changes.

Mr Lansley also did himself no favours in the manner he went about his reforms, with many professional groups angered by his apparent obstinacy in the face of a challenge to his reform agenda. Many in the press have been speculating about his departure as he has been damaging the Conservative-led Coalition politically, given the extent of opposition to his plans.

VBP discussions

Mr Lansley is also the creator of the value-based pricing system in England, which would allow the government to set the price of a drug at launch, based on new definitions of value – something the pharmaceutical industry does not want to see happen.

However, his departure may be irksome to pharma, who have just sat down at the negotiating table with the UK government over its plans to reform the drug pricing system.

But this could also be a blessing in disguise for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which is handling the negotiations. The ABPI has already made it clear that it does not want VBP, but rather the old pharmaceutical price regulation scheme (PPRS) with new definitions of value added in.

If the architect of the plans has gone – and if the incumbent has little favour for them – then the negotiations could have just become a lot easier. Formally Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI, said: “I want to welcome Jeremy Hunt into his new role as Secretary of State for Health and offer my sincerest thanks for Andrew Lansley’s tireless work at the Department of Health.

“An on-going challenge will be to ensure that the NHS performs better at getting the latest medicines to patients, because as it stands, people are still not able to access many of the most innovative treatments which are available on the continent.

“Industry will also continue to work closely with the DH to design a pricing system that provides a good deal for taxpayers, whilst ensuring a healthy and productive environment for companies to research and develop the medicines of the future.”