27/01/2015 08:29 GMT | Updated 27/01/2015 08:59 GMT

Alan Milburn Slams Ed Miliband's NHS 'Comfort Zone' Campaign

Dave Thompson via Getty Images
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27: Labour Leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech about the future of the National Health Service at The Life Centre on January 27, 2015 in Sale, Manchester, England. The party leader pledged his support to the NHS with just 100 days to go until the general election. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Ed Miliband's "comfort zone" campaign on the NHS risks losing Labour the election as voters may not feel Labour would carry out the reforms needed for the health service, a former Labour cabinet minister has warned.

Alan Milburn, a former health secretary under Tony Blair, told the BBC that it was a "fatal mistake" for Labour to "go into this election looking as if its the party that would better resource the NHS but not necessarily put its pedal to the floor when it comes to reforming it".

"There is a risk that Labour’s position on the National Health Service becomes almost an emblem for Labour showing an unwillingness to lean into a difficult reform agenda. Look, reforms are not easy, but the Labour party is not a conservative party. It should be about moving things forward, not preserving them in aspic," he went on.

"I think the biggest risk for Labour on health, and indeed more generally, is that we could look like we’re sticking to our comfort zone but aren’t prepared to strike out into territory that, in the end, the public know any party of government will have to strike out into, which is to make some difficult changes and difficult choices."

Responding to Milburn on the BBC, shadow health minister Liz Kendall insisted the party was ready to carry out the necessary reforms, adding: "I have a lot of respect for Alan Milburn but I think he's plain wrong."

His comments, to the World At One, come as Miliband tried to lay out his party's 10 year plan for the health service.

In a keynote speech, Miliband warned that the NHS was facing "its most perilous moment in a generation".

Conservative victory on May 7 would mean further fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS, he claimed, while Labour would "rescue" the service by investing billions of pounds raised from tobacco companies and the mansion tax.

Speaking in Trafford, Greater Manchester, where the first NHS hospital was opened in 1948, Miliband warned: "In this election the British people get to decide who you can trust with your healthcare and our National Health Service. And today, I ask you to think hard about the choices on offer.

"Our country's most precious institution faces its most perilous moment in a generation. A choice of two futures: Continuing with a Conservative plan, which has already led to an NHS in crisis and which threatens the service as we know it. Or a Labour plan to rescue our NHS, invest in its future and join up services from home to hospital."

Labour's 10-year plan, unveiled by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham in London, focuses on previously-announced promises to invest an additional £2.5 billion in the NHS, recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs, join health and social care services and guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within a week.

Miliband said: "The central idea is this: that we must both invest in the NHS so it has time to care and join up services at every stage from home to hospital, so you can get the care you need, where you need it. That is the key principle to make our NHS sustainable and successful for years to come."

The coalition allowed a "crisis" to build up in NHS A&E departments by failing to take action on social care, mental health and GP services which could keep patients out of hospital, he said

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Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb said: "Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver the stronger economy and fairer society needed to protect the future of the NHS.

"The Liberal Democrats have set out our plans to increase NHS spending by £8 billion per year by 2020, and explained how we will pay for it. Labour have failed to match this promise of investment. On the other hand, the Conservatives have also failed to commit to this investment and their plan to balance the deficit through nothing but cuts will risk our public services."

A poll by ComRes for the Independent suggested the NHS was deemed a higher priority for voters than the economy.

Of 1,001 adults surveyed by phone last weekend, three in five, or 59%, said policy on the NHS would influence their voting decision more than economic policy, while some 34% said the economy was more important to them than health policy.