Shadow health secretary John Healey has spoken of his determination to expose the government’s “broken promises” on the NHS, in his first interview with the specialist health press since taking up the role.

Shadow health secretary John Healey has spoken of his determination to expose the government’s “broken promises” on the NHS, in his first interview with the specialist health press since taking up the role.

My principle job is to hold Lansley to account for what he’s doing, in particular the gap between what he is saying and what he is doing

He told HSJ he will capitalise on health secretary Andrew Lansley’s “defensive” attitude and what he sees as disparities between the government’s plans for the health service now and pledges made before the election and in the coalition agreement.

This includes a promise not to carry out top-down reorganisations, a planned real terms increase in the NHS budget and a moratorium on closures of maternity units and accident and emergency departments.

Mr Healey said: “What’s in prospect is not what we expected when we heard [prime minister] David Cameron talk about the NHS at the election, it’s not what people expected when they read the coalition agreement after the election.”

But he said it was “not his job” to come up with counter proposals on government policies, for example on how resources should be allocated.

He vehemently opposed attempts to withhold pay increments, saying “[they] are part of people’s contract. You can’t simply sweep that away on the back of an argument that these are tough times”.

At the same time, he said, it was not up to Labour to suggest areas where financial savings could be made.

He said: “We lost the election. They’re the government now, they’re making the decisions. Andrew Lansley is now in charge of the health service, my principle job is to hold him to account for what he’s doing, in particular the gap between what he is saying and what he is doing.”

Over the past month, Mr Healey has attacked Mr Lansley by focusing on the Tories’ claims to protect the NHS budget and their plans to reduce financial top-ups for specialist children’s hospitals.

He reacted strongly when reminded of recent criticism from Mr Lansley that his points have been “opportunistic”, and denied his confrontations had been “populist”.

Mr Healey said: “That’s what you hear from politicians who haven’t got an argument. My job as a politician is to speak up for patients and to speak up for the concerns of the public.

“The impact on some of these children’s hospitals and the most critically ill children in this country that they treat could be very severe. Now if Andrew Lansley thinks he’s right to cut funding by a third, that’s his decision. I’d expect him to explain it, to defend it, and at the moment he won’t.”

He said it would not be possible to match Mr Lansley’s detailed knowledge of the NHS, given he had a “six and a half year head start”.

This did not mean Mr Healey would avoid getting embroiled in debates over the technicalities of health policy.

“When the country gets the detail of what he’s doing we’ll get stuck in, don’t doubt that,” he said.

Mr Healey said Mr Lansley was failing to make the most of his apparent grasp of detail, coming across in Parliament as “defensive” and unable to answer many of the questions put to him.

Regarding GP commissioning, Mr Healey will argue in coming months that GP consortia will take decisions further away from patients, that accountability will be weak and that there will be less scope for service personalisation.

Continuing the policy U-turn made by former health secretary Andy Burnham, he is also opposed to the “any willing provider” policy on the grounds it will increase NHS marketisation.

He would also be pushing for the government to take some “time out” instead of pressing ahead with reforms “at breakneck speed”.

The scale of challenge from professional bodies, unions and patient groups to the Liberating the NHS white paper showed the need for further engagement before changes went ahead, he said. Mr Healey sees Andrew Lansley as particularly vulnerable to charges of “broken promises” but does not wish to isolate David Cameron from the criticism.

“They’re both in the firing line,” he said.

John Healey CV

Education

  • Lady Lumley’s Comprehensive School, Pickering
  • St Peter’s School, York
  • Christ’s College, Cambridge

CV

  • 1984-1990 Various voluntary sector roles
  • 1990-94 Communications
  • roles at PR company and for MSF union
  • 1994-97 TUC Campaigns director
  • 1997 Elected MP for Wentworth, now Wentworth and Dearne
  • 2005 Financial secretary to the Treasury
  • 2007 Local government minister
  • 2009 Minister for housing and planning, attending Cabinet
  • October 2010 Appointed shadow health secretary