Labour leader Ed Miliband has called on health and wellbeing boards to “defend the NHS” from privatisation and increasing competition.
In his keynote speech to the Royal College of Nursing annual congress in Harrogate today Mr Miliband reiterated Labour’s ambition to repeal parts of the Health and Social Care Act if he won the next election.
In particular he highlighted three areas of concern: The 49 per cent foundation trust private patient income cap; Monitor’s role in encouraging competition; and what he described as a “conflict of interest” between GPs as both commissioners and providers of services.
He said: “We would put an end to the damage of the Bill and repeal the freemarket free-for-all in our NHS.
“But my party isn’t going to wait until then before we do something to protect the NHS. We’re going to be asking health and wellbeing boards to act as the last line of defence in our NHS.”
He said he wanted boards to resist the “creep of charges for treatment”, promote “collaboration over competition” and put “patients before profits”.
Mr Miliband also told delegates he supported the “national pay framework” for nurses but would not commit to undoing controversial NHS pension reforms.
He said: “Let me say very clearly, I believe in a national pay framework for the national health service.”
However, in a question and answer session following the speech, he refused to pledge that he would row back on any changes made to pay by the current government.
Mr Miliband also said he could not deny the fact that “difficult decisions” were needed on public sector pensions.
But he claimed the government was using “high handed imposition” to introduce its proposals rather than negotiation.
“If we were in government now we would be negotiating with you about pensions,” he said.
Mr Miliband received a standing ovation at the end of his speech and exchanged jokes with the audience during the question and answer session that followed.
The warm welcome extended to the Labour leader was in contrast to the dignified but less friendly reception given to health secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday.
Mr Miliband accused the government of acting like “the masters, not the servants’” of the NHS, while also describing nurses as “the defenders of the health service”.
“You are not just on the frontline in our NHS. You are the first line in the defence of our NHS,” he said.
“I want to pay tribute to the nurses of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the fantastic work you do and also to the healthcare assistants who are such an essential part of the nursing team. You are the backbone of the NHS.”
Mr Miliband also used his first speech to RCN Congress to launch a new online campaign called NHS Check, under which staff and patients are being called on to tell the Labour party about problems with locals services caused by the reforms.
“Today, we’re launching a new campaign, NHS Check, which will allow staff and patients who are concerned about what’s happening to get in touch with us and tell us what they’re seeing in hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries,” he said.