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Government’s NHS reforms criticised

21 February 2011

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Government plans to overhaul the health system will bring about the break-up of the NHS, Labour has warned.

Shadow Health Secretary, John Healey, said that the changes were disguising a more fundamental ideological shift, which would lead to a “full-blown market system” where GPs would be forced to send patients for treatment provided by the lowest bidder, regardless of quality.

Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, branded the move as an “experiment in right-wing ideology” on the NHS and said that the public will be furious about the changes.

Legislation tabled by Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, will give GPs the power to commission treatment and services for their patients from “any willing provider”, including private companies. Primary care trusts will be abolished and GPs will control commissioning totalling £80bn – around 80% of the NHS budget.

Mr Healey today told BBC1’s The Politics Show: “If this was simply about giving GPs more power, they would have our support. But then they would not need legislation that is three times longer than the act which set up the NHS in the first place.

“In truth, this is about a very far-reaching fundamental shift of ideology which puts a full-blown market at the heart of the NHS. We think that is simply the wrong reform at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.”

While in power, Labour was ready to involve the private sector in clearing NHS backlogs of particular operations or in improving hospitals, but only in a strictly limited way, said Mr Healey.

This had led to the highest standards of patient satisfaction and the lowest waiting lists ever, he said.

But he said that the present government’s plans were “totally different”, adding: “It opens up all parts of the NHS to private health competition in the future and it will lead to the break-up of the NHS in the long run.

“The problem with the plans is that it won’t be the GPs calling the shots in the long run. All the evidence around the world shows that in health a market drives quality down and care services down, because price becomes the determining factor.”

Mr Lansley said: “Before attacking the government for cutting the NHS, John Healey needs to tell us whether he supports the extra £10.7bn we are putting into the NHS.

“If he won’t support that extra funding, people will see these attacks for what they are – pure political opportunism.

“Labour has no vision to improve care for patients. They have turned their back on the very things we need to modernise our NHS – any willing provider, increasing the power of frontline staff and making accountability work for patients, not bureaucrats.”

Copyright © Press Association 2011