Ed Miliband accuses Cameron of bunker mentality as he sets out Labour's five priorities for the NHS

20 February 2012

Ed_LOU1- Check against delivery -

It is fantastic to be here at Homerton hospital.

I know that all of you work hard every day, to make the NHS what it is.

I know you’ve got a fantastic A and E and children’s ward here, and I want to thank you for all the hard work you do.

We’re here ahead of an important debate on the NHS bill this week.

The decisions we have to take in the coming weeks are going to affect every patient, every doctor, and everyone who works in the NHS for years to come.

It’s too important to keep this debate in Westminster.

Today the Prime Minister is holding a Downing Street summit which excludes those from the medical profession who disagree with his Bill.

I have to say I think this bunker mentality is the wrong way to run the NHS.

And I want to say something directly to David Cameron today.

It’s not too late to start listening to the doctors, the nurses and the midwives.

It’s not too late to listen to patients.

His bill will cause lasting damage to the NHS, it will divert billions from patient care and undermine our health service’s basic principles.

He should drop his bill and get round the table with everyone who cares about the future of the NHS, including those who work in the health service and other political parties.

I stand ready to be part of that.

Because the question is not reform or no reform.

It is what type of reform.

And I want to say today what I think the five priorities are for our health service.

The first priority – this year, next year, every year – should be to support the frontline

Frontline first.

Whoever was in power, the NHS would be facing a huge task to find £20bn in efficiency savings.

I make no bones about that

That is why it makes no sense to engage in this huge upheaval at this time.

This bill will cost billions of pounds.
Including vast amounts on redundancy payoffs, only for the same people to be rehired to do a similar job.

The NHS cannot afford a single penny sucked out of the frontline.

That is why we would scrap the Bill and use the money to support the frontline instead – including to save the 6,000 nursing posts that are being cut over this Parliament.

Labour’s second priority is to restore and enhance patient guarantees.

I know some of our targets were controversial and I know there were at times too many of them.

But this Government has sent you the most confusing messages on this issue: promising to get rid of all targets then criticising you for failing to meet targets that they said didn’t matter.

I am clear: a small number of basic patient guarantees is right for the NHS.

Like 18 week waiting, four hour A and E waits, 1 week to get your cancer test done.

Patient guarantees help to improve standards.

Unfortunately, the Government watered down the A&E standard – and now waiting times are slipping around the country.

And they refused to back our cancer test guarantee.

Labour would restore the patient guarantees, and look to give patients more choice and control.

Our third priority is to get the relationship between the NHS and private sector right and stop creeping privatisation and charges in NHS hospitals

In Government, Labour used the private sector to support the NHS in getting waiting times down.

That was the right thing to do.

We want to see the private sector, where it is needed, working alongside the NHS, delivering for NHS patients.

I am concerned about the plan to allow trusts to raise half their income from private patients.

The generation of small amounts of private income to support the NHS happened when we were in government and can continue to happen.

But subject to this key question: will it improve or worsen the NHS patient experience?

Without rules to put NHS patients first or stop rising charges, the Government’s plan risks creeping privatisation.

This concern is heightened by the free market model at the heart of this bill.

A model explicitly based on that used for the privatised utilities—gas, water and electricity.

People do not want hospital set against hospital and doctor against doctor.

We say the free market model is not the right model for our NHS.

Our fourth priority is to work with patients and professionals, not against them – that is how you reform the NHS successfully.

We can deliver more clinical involvement in commissioning without this Bill and without this upheaval.

We have made clear to the Government that if they drop the Bill we are prepared to work with them on this goal.

And we need professionals themselves leading the process of change – so that reforms empower staff and learn from their experience.

Bottom-up reform, not a top-down reorganisation.

Our fifth priority is to focus on the major changes we need to keep the NHS world-class over the coming decades.

All around the world, developed countries face the challenge of an ageing population and more long-term conditions. This will involve some tough choices.

Everyone agrees there will need to be a shift from acute services towards prevention, with more provision of services at home and in the community.

The easy thing for an Opposition to say is no to all change. That is what our current Prime Minister did when in Opposition.

I am not going to do it. In the last couple of weeks I have seen the effects of changes in hospitals at the Princess Royal hospital in Kent and the Royal Bolton Hospital which have provided a better service.

We also need to integrate health and social care, so they are seen as two sides of the same coin, not two separate services.

That means looking at how we integrate their budgets and their workforce too.

But again, the Government’s Health Bill is so often making these vital reforms harder, not easier.

Let me end on this point.

Reform must never become an end in itself.It must be about addressing the real challenges the NHS faces.

I believe the NHS needs to change:

To drive for the highest standards of patient care.

To enhance control for the patient.

To meet the challenges of an ageing population.

But nobody can tell us how David Cameron’s bill will actually address these challenges.

I am incredibly proud that working with you between 1997 and 2010 we managed to turn the NHS from a crisis service that looked like it was on its last legs into one that people believed could serve us in the future

And I want to work with you to protect it for the future—even through tough times.

I look forward to working with you to make it happen.


Sign the 'Drop the Health Bill' e-petition here