By politics.co.uk staff
Winning over the hearts and minds of those implementing the government's policy should be a ministerial priority for the NHS, its employers' organisation has warned.
NHS Confederation painted a bleak picture in its new year message, suggesting 2011 could end up being the "toughest year" in the NHS' 62-year history.
It said disrupted momentum caused by health secretary Andrew Lansley's structural reforms, the trauma of finding £20 billion of efficiency savings and the uncertainty created by debate over a major piece of healthcare legislation would all contribute to a destabilising 12 months.
"If the issues are not fully recognised, they will be dealt with poorly and patients will be the losers," acting chief executive Nigel Edwards said.
"The NHS is going to have to get all hands to the pumps and it will need all the help it can get. We need policymakers to fully understand the pressures, to act to mitigate the risks and to persuade those involved that we are on the right course."
The long-overdue review of social care and the findings of the inquiry into poor patient care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust are likely to add further to the mental burdens faced by NHS staff in 2011.
Mr Edwards wants ministers to tell a "compelling story" to motivate workers in the nation's hospitals.
"The state will be withdrawing from the day-to-day management of healthcare and power, accountability and decision making will work in new ways," he added.
"The culture change for NHS staff, politicians, the media and the wider public is even larger than the technical and structural changes being introduced."
Shadow health secretary John Healey said Mr Edwards' comments were not what people expected when David Cameron promised to 'protect the NHS'.
He said: "When the NHS must deal with such a tight financial squeeze, this is exactly the wrong time to force the NHS through a big internal reorganisation which could cost £3 billion when this money is needed for frontline staff and to treat patients."