Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has attacked attempts by NHS commissioners to restrict routine surgery for overweight patients and smokers.

Mr Burnham made the comments this morning as he outlined Labour’s new public health policy.

Speaking at the London offices of the think tank Demos, he said: “I don’t want to see a judgmental health service. I don’t think it’s for the health service to start sitting in judgment, and say ‘you’re worthy of treatment, but you’re not’.

Andy Burnham

‘Traffic light’ food labelling is one way to empower patients, Andy Burnham said

“Life is difficult, no one is a paragon of virtue, we’re all trying our best.

“The culture we’re trying to build is one of empowerment.”

Mr Burnham said this meant helping people take responsibility through “traffic light” labelling on food or drink products and helping people become more active.

His comments follow the revelation last year that Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group was seeking to withhold elective procedures such as hip and knee replacements from morbidly obese patients and smokers as a cost cutting measure.

The CCG had wanted those patients to prove they had lost at least 5 per cent of their body weight before the procedure, but the plans were dropped last month.

Mr Burnham acknowledged that the government “cannot do everything,” and said he wanted a “point of balance” between government intervention and empowering citizens.

Under that principle, he said he would seek to regulate the salt and sugar content of foods marketed directly at children, such as breakfast cereals, rather than tax them, as taxes on food were “regressive”.

However, this approach would not be extended to all foods. Confectionary would be excluded because, Mr Burnham argued, people already understand it has a high sugar content.

Although children would be “protected” from unhealthy foods and aggressive marketing, the approach for adults would be different and based around making information available, he said.

Only high alcohol cider would be targeted with more tax. Labour’s public health spokeswoman Luciana Berger described such drinks as “little more than apple flavoured industrial alcohol”.

It is the first major intervention specifically on public health from a front bench politician since the NHS Five Year Forward View placed a strong emphasis on prevention in its vision for the future of the health service.