The coalition must end their ‘reckless’ privatisation of NHS services until a review into the effect on millions of patients has been carried out, urged Labour at their party conference in Manchester today.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham claimed the government’s plans to sell medical services would be the ‘single biggest act of privatisation the NHS has ever seen’ at Manchester Central.
He also produced a report for nearly 400 community services, totalling £250million, revealing how at least three of a eight services are being forced invite private providers that already perform to a ‘high quality’.
“The sheer pace of this is proceeding in a reckless manner,” Burnham said. “It is a fast-track to fragmentation and is being really rammed through, particularly given all the other change that is destabilising the NHS at the moment, the financial pressure it is facing.
“The NHS is reaching a fork in the road and I believe that a central question at the next election will be the choice of direction, which path does it take?
“Our choice is integration. Such is the complexity of caring for an ageing population, my judgment is the future requires a one-system approach to health and care.
“It is across the entire system: in NHS community services, NHS hospital services, in commissioning and even in patient advocacy.”
Burnham admitted that Labour would not be able to guarantee that any part of the NHS would be immune from being outsourced if it was failing, but they would be realistic about how private firms could become involved.
“There will be a role for the private sector in any NHS that I run,” he added. “But I have a policy of ‘NHS first’ because my judgment is that people want a core public NHS in their community.
“They are essential, emergency, important services that everyone needs to rely on.
“That permanent core needs to be there – come what may. It can’t be here today, gone tomorrow as a company comes in, comes out, goes bust.”
But when questioned about what would be in Labour’s ‘permanent core’ Burnham refused to reveal the party’s plans.
“As part of our policy review I am prepared to consider that question,” he said. “It is the things that have to be there day in and day out that people depend on.
“I am pragmatic on this question rather than ideological. I don’t think you can ever say if there’s a failing service, even in the NHS, that you just put up with it because it’s the NHS.
“If it is letting the public down you have got to open your mind to the fact that it needs to be changed and improved.”