UK Politics

Get ready for fight over NHS plans, warns Burnham

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Media captionAndy Burnham says coalition health plans are 'a bad deal for patients'

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has warned the government to "get ready for the fight of your life" over plans to overhaul the NHS in England.

In his conference speech, Mr Burnham said the "frightening" plans offered a "bad deal" for patients.

Staff were shell-shocked at plans to "carve up" the NHS and £3bn was being wasted on a "political experiment".

The government says abolishing two tiers of management will cut the cost of NHS bureaucracy.

Under the plans, unveiled in a White Paper and to be phased in over three years, all 10 strategic health authorities and 152 local management bodies known as primary care trusts are to be abolished, affecting more than 60,000 managers.

'Bad deal'

In their place, hundreds of GP consortiums will be created and given the responsibility for much of the £105bn health budget.

Addressing Labour delegates, Mr Burnham - who was a candidate for the Labour leadership and is expected to be elected to serve in the new shadow cabinet - hit out at the plans as a "bad deal for patients".

"You can't pose as a friend of the NHS one day and rip it to pieces the next," he said. "People will never forgive you for it."

He warned the government: "Get ready for the fight of your life and the public will be on our side, not yours.

"You made promises to patients and NHS staff. We will not let you betray them."

He aimed his fire at Lib Dem leader, now deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who entered into the coalition government after the general election resulted in a hung parliament.

'Frightening vision'

Describing the Lib Dems as "Tories in yellow ties", he added: "Make no mistake Nick, if you and your MPs nod through the break-up of the NHS, we will put the blame on you."

He said Lib Dem voters had not supported the plans, adding: "You didn't tell them you would allow your friend Dave to carve up the NHS."

Mr Burnham suggested the plans would lead to a postcode lottery within the NHS and increased waiting times and said it offered a "frightening vision of a fragmented health service where markets rule".

He won much applause from members as he said: "We are a resurgent Labour Party and nothing matters more to us than the NHS, it is the best thing about Britain today."

The government says the reorganisation will reduce management costs by more than 45% over the coming years and David Cameron has accused Labour of "defending the bureaucracy" of the NHS.

An aide to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Andy Burnham's speech is without any vision or hope for the NHS, unsurprising, given he doesn't support the coalition's commitment to health spending.

"But the coalition will not make the sick pay for the deficit we inherited from Labour and we will not squander the money as Labour did. Instead, we will use this opportunity to sustain and improve care for NHS patients."

She added the plans would "liberate" the NHS "to deliver a patient-centred service, true to the values of when it was created in the 1940s but fit for the 21st Century".

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