Labour will accuse David Cameron of misleading the public over his plans to privatise the NHS in England and call for contracts putting the service ‘up for sale’ to be frozen until after the general election.
Andy Burnham has called for a halt to any further contracts for NHS clinical services being signed until after the next election except where there are issues of patient safety or urgent threats to service provision.
He will claim the prime minister was “not up front” about his intentions for reform during the 2010 campaign, leaving voters with no say.
In a speech in Manchester (see attached), the shadow health secretary will insist that forced privatisation is being pushed through “at pace and scale” and warn that contracts being signed now will bind the next government.
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“Labour publishes new analysis today which shows that NHS forced privatisation is entering new territory and becoming harder to reverse,” he will say.
“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.”
Mr Burnham will say that voters face the choice of a public, integrated NHS under Labour or fragmented and privatised service under the Conservatives.
He has written to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens calling for a halt to any further contracts for NHS clinical services being signed until after the next election except where there are issues of patient safety or urgent threats to service provision.
“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,” Mr Burnham will add.
“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.
“When his reorganisation hit trouble and was paused, David Cameron explicitly promised that it would not lead to more forced privatisation of services. But, as always with the NHS and this prime minister, the rhetoric and the reality don’t match.
“On his watch, NHS privatisation is being forced through at pace and scale. Commissioners have been ordered to put all services out to the market. NHS spending on private and other providers has gone through the £10 billion barrier for the first time. When did the British public ever give their consent for this?
“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.”
Matt Tee, chief operating officer at the NHS Confederation, said short and long term contracts had their place in the NHS.
“The test should be what is right for patients and local communities.
“Our members are very clear that there are plenty of things which keep them awake at night, but contracting is rarely cited as one of them.
“The ‘2015 Challenge’ encourages politicians of all parties to engage with the real issues facing the health and social care system and to play their part in taking forward an honest debate with the public about how to address them.”
A Conservative spokesman accused Labour of posturing. “This speech is all about politics, it’s not a serious plan for the future of the NHS,” he said.
“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.
“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. 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.”