Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has slammed David Cameron in a Manchester speech today –branding the Prime Minister ‘not honest’ about his plans to privatise the NHS.
The Labour MP urged NHS England to delay signing private sector contracts for clinical services until after next year’s general election at UNISON North West headquarters, Arena Point.
Fearing that Labour could be stuck with Tory-sanctioned deals post-election, Burnham told the Government to put NHS privatisation plans on hold until the public have their say before confirming that Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act if they gain power.
“When his reorganisation hit trouble and was paused, David Cameron explicitly promised that it would not lead to more forced privatisation of services,” said Burnham, speaking at one of Labour’s The Choice summer speeches.
“But, as always with the NHS and this Prime Minister, the rhetoric and the reality don’t match.”
CUTS BATTLE: Manchester protesters at the Conservative Party Conference (ⒸImage curtesy of Sheila)
Suggesting that health commissioners have been ordered to put all services out the private sector as NHS spending has ballooned through the ‘£10billion barrier’ for the first time under the Coalition Government, Burnham warns that the health service is being eroded against Britons’ wishes.
“On his watch, NHS privatisation is being forced through at pace and scale. When did the British public ever give their consent for this?” said Burnham.
“It is indefensible for the character of the country’s most valued institution to be changed in this way without the public being given a say.”
“The reason why people love and trust the NHS is because, for all its faults, it is a service that is based on people not profits.
“That principle sets our health service apart and was famously celebrated two years ago at the Opening Ceremony of our Olympic Games – but it is now under real threat.”
Under the Health and Social Care Act, which was granted royal assent back in 2012, a number of contracts have been agreed as services shifted to the private sector.
— Labour North West (@LabourNorthWest) July 29, 2014
Describing the ‘increasingly fragmented’ service under the Conservatives plans, the Labour MP suggested that standards of care have deteriorated in recent years – including GP services, cancer care and A&E waits – as a result of Tory mismanagement of the NHS.
Burnham highlighted £1.2billion deals for cancer care in Staffordshire, while the Government also penned an £800million contract for care of the elderly in Cambridge and a ‘reverse auction’ process for NHS services in Oxford and Milton Keynes.
Andy Burnham insists that these agreements are leaving whoever is in charge after the country heads to the polls handcuffed and restricted – with latest Lord Ashcroft figures showing a six-point lead for his party nationally.
“Forced privatisation is entering new territory and becoming harder to reverse,” said Burnham.
“Contracts are being signed that will run for the five years of the next Parliament and beyond. This is not acceptable. Contracts like this will tie the hands of the next Government in a crucial area of public policy.
“But, even worse, they are being signed without a mandate from the public. The Prime Minister was not up front about these plans at the last election. He needs to be reminded that he has never been given the permission of the public to put the NHS up for sale in this way.”
FIGHTING TALK: Shadow Health Secretary pulls no punches (Ⓒimage curtesy of NHS Confederation)
Burnham confirmed that he had written to the NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens in a bid to halt any further deals being signed until May’s judgement day unless there is an urgent need to do so.
“Further forced privatisation of services, not based on clinical decision making, should not proceed until the public has had a proper say,” said Burnham.
“This will give the country the chance to have a proper debate at the 2015 Election and to decide what kind of health service it wants in the 21st century. And it will reserve the rights of the next Government to decide how best to take the NHS forward.”
In response, a Conservative Party spokesman accused Labour of posturing and highlighted that Burnham and the Labour party had been guilty of the same ‘mistakes’ in the past.
He said: “This speech is all about politics – it’s not a serious plan for the future of the NHS.
“Use of the private sector by the NHS doubled in the last four years of Labour, a far bigger increase than under this Government.
“Andy Burnham himself signed off the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital during Labour’s final year so it is pure political posturing to try to interfere with doctors making the best clinical judgments for patients.”
Now in their fifth year in power, the Conservatives have spearheaded a number of cuts to the NHS in a bid to reduce the deficit.
But the party spokesman suggests that their ability to maintain the core pillars of the service represents success that Labour will struggle to repeat.
“The most important thing with NHS care is that it is high quality and free at the point of delivery. Because of the realistic assessments this Government has made on public spending, we’ve been able to do exactly that,” he said.
“We’ve increased health spending, increased the number of doctors and reduced the number of managers.
“The NHS is an asset to be valued and protected – it deserves better than this speech. The real choice at the next election will be between a Conservative Party which is delivering a more efficient and effective NHS – and a Labour Party which has learned nothing from its past mistakes.”
(Main Image curtesy of BMA, with thanks)