The health reforms being pushed through by the government will lead to the break-up of the NHS, Labour has warned.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said that the government’s plans to hand commissioning power to GPs masked a more fundamental change which would impose a “full-blown market system” at the heart of the NHS.

Competition requirements contained in legislation before Parliament will mean that GPs’ hands are tied and they are forced to send patients to private companies which undercut local NHS hospitals, he predicted.

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday accused the government of conducting an “experiment in right wing ideology” on the NHS, and warned that public anger over the changes will dwarf the recent protests over privatisation of the forests.

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.

Mr Healey 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.”

Mr Lansley responded by saying: “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.”