Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Chris Skidmore Headshot

Labour Have Seized Upon the NHS Reforms to Shamelessly Oppose for Opposition's Sake

Posted: Updated:

Over the next few months, the debate surrounding NHS Reform is likely to remain fierce. We have a duty to ensure that, just as we are tackling the deficit so that future generations are not burdened with debt, we make the changes to the NHS we need to make now, so that we can invest more money into frontline care, and ensure that generations tomorrow will continue to receive the first-class health treatment that they deserve, free at the point of delivery, regardless of the ability to pay. That is why we are making these reforms, and it should never be far from our minds.

In recent weeks, the Labour Party have seized upon the reforms to shamelessly oppose for opposition's sake many of the changes such as GP led commissioning, bringing more providers into the NHS, allowing patients greater say and control in their treatment, that New Labour once sought to introduce themselves.

The U-Turn is spectacular, but not as staggering as their frequent claim to be the party of the NHS. Considering Andy Burnham's own record as Health Secretary, nothing could be further from the truth.

Take for instance the 103 PFI deals approved by Labour for the NHS with a combined value of £11.4 billion, which by the time that they are paid off will have cost more than £65 billion - schemes that Andy Burnham said in 2007 were "the right schemes and offer value for money."

His stance now appears to be the polar opposite, that, "We made mistakes. I'm not defending every pen-stroke of the PFI contracts we signed."

Or the £12.7 billion wasted on the irredeemable mess of the National Programme for IT, which Burnham claimed as recently as 2009 was "making the NHS safer, more efficient and more convenient for patients". This is not even a weakness of ideology- it is one of basic competence.

No less disturbing is the scandal of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. In 2009 he shunned the idea of a full public inquiry, claiming it would be "too distracting to managers". Thankfully the change of government in May 2010 has allowed Andrew Lansley to set up a full investigation of the failings of care and management that led to hundreds of avoidable deaths.

Andy Burnham has also shown considerable contempt for any organisation outside of the centralised state with his 'preferred provider' model, which treats charities and third sector organisations with valuable expertise as if they were toxic. As the prime minister pointed out in PMQs last week, this is tantamount to ignoring the vital expertise, for example, of the Terrence Higgins Trust in supporting the treatment of people with HIV.

Profligacy was at the heart of Labour's management of the NHS, and the impetus for it came right from the top. Between 1997 and 2010, the Department of Health spent £48.2 million on first class rail tickets. In the same time span, £5.3 million was spent on drivers for ministerial cars- with an 11% rise in 2009-10 as Andy Burnham took over as Health Secretary. Between 2007-10 alone, health officials spent £4.6 million on hotel stays, accounting for thousands of nights away at the taxpayers' expense.

This culture of excess was allowed to cascade down to Primary Care Trusts as well, typified by the grotesque chaos of trusts struggling with increased cost pressures but still finding the money to spend £182 million on 491 media professionals. Or indeed the £6.2 billion being spent on management- with the number of senior managers almost doubling from 23,400 in 1997 to 42,500 in 2010.

It does not take a great leap of the imagination to picture what the NHS might look like back in Labour's hands, for one only has to make the short journey across one of the Severn Bridges to see it in practice.

The Welsh government, run by a coalition of Labour and socialist fellow travellers Plaid Cymru, has cut health spending by £400 million- or 6.5%, resulting in 27% of people waiting longer than six weeks for diagnostic services, compared with 1% in England.

This is not what anyone wants for the NHS in England, yet if Burnham and Labour were to regain control, it would be exactly what we would get, given that Labour would have no option but to cut services, having pledged themselves against increases in the NHS which Burnham has judged "irresponsible" despite rising demand.

The party of the NHS? We shouldn't be afraid to expose this as the greatest joke in politics. At a time when the NHS needs reform to ensure its survival in the face of unprecedented demographic change, Labour cannot be trusted with the NHS. All they do, all they will ever do, is waste your money, and defend the interests of producers over patients.

Around the Web

NHS will have to ration further treatments, GPs warn

Alex Salmond's mandarin attacks Andrew Lansley over NHS reforms

NHS could be reduced to emergency-only service by BMA action

'Rat Attacks NHS Patient': Jason Ketley 'Attacked' After Incident At St Ebba's ...

NHS watchdog plans 'risk another Mid Staffs'