Andy Burnham calls for halting of "privatisation" of NHS

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham delivered a speech this morning as part of Labour’s “The Choice” summer series of speeches by members of the Shadow Cabinet. Dubbed as Labour’s “Summer Offensive”, the series aims to lay out the key choices facing voters in 2015. Most interestingly, but also not surprisingly, Burnham was strongly critical of private sector involvement in the NHS and what he viewed as “burdens” placed on the system by competition provisions.

Burnham opened up with a strong attack on the reforms introduced by Andrew Lansley, stating that the reorganisation he designed had not been voted by anyone, while adding that “What was more breathtaking was the sheer audacity of the plan to treat the NHS as another utility to be broken up and privatised”. Burnham went on to outline Labour’s plans for the NHS, saying that it has to be reset for this century, “as a national health and care service able to see the whole person and all of their needs”, as this is the only way to financial sustainability.

The Shadow Health Secretary criticised the NHS reforms for resulting in falling standards, such as A&E waiting times and ambulance response times, while mentioning particularly General Practice as facing significant challenges, both in terms of professionals but also in service delivery. Burnham went on to describe what he viewed as a deteriorating financial situation, citing the increased number of trusts that are now in deficit and criticising the cost for redundancy payments and staff reductions that have led to an increase in the use of agency staff to cover needs.

Burnham then stated that the biggest challenge from the government’s reorganisation came from changes that have led in “slowly but surely […] moving away from a national health service with clear entitlements and towards a series of local health markets where unaccountable commissioners decide what people can have”, citing examples of certain areas restricting the range of treatment available for free.

The Shadow Secretary also highlighted what he viewed as a threat to the NHS: “NHS privatisation is now proceeding at pace and scale as commissioners are forced to put services out to the market”, adding that NHS spending on private and other providers had now surpassed the £10 billion mark. Burnham repeated his continuous point, prevalent throughout his speech that nobody had voted for these changes and went on to state that, according to analysis by the Labour Party, these changes are now becoming more difficult to reverse, citing the example of the Cambridgeshire contract for services for older people that will run during 2015-2020. He added that he had written to the Chief Executive of NHS England “to ask that no further contracts for NHS clinical services are signed until after the next election except where there are issues of patient safety or threats to service provision that need to be addressed urgently”, as this ties the hands of the next Government “in a crucial area of public policy”. He also criticised markets for delivering what he viewed as the opposite of service integration, fragmentation, adding that market-based systems do not deliver cost savings and can hold back necessary changes, such as merging of hospitals that can be struck down as being “anti-competitive”.

Andy Burnham concluded his speech by reiterating Labour’s commitment to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and describing the Party’s efforts to gather support for Clive Efford’s Private Member’s Bill, which aims to repeal certain elements of the Act, while also criticising funding cuts for social care that has led to increased hospitalisation of elderly patients. In his final remarks, and in line with “The Choice” theme of his speech, Burnham laid out the choice facing the NHS: “a part-privatised, two-tier health market under David Cameron; a public, integrated national health and care service under Labour”.

Elias from PSI: Burnham’s speech has been repeating points him and the Labour Party have been making consistently over the NHS reorganisation and the competition provisions introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012.  Labour is expected to try to make the NHS one of the key dividing issues on the campaign trail to 2015, in an attempt to build on opinion polls showing the Party is more trusted to run the NHS than the Conservatives.