Labour Party conference: Andy Burnham warns of American-style NHS under Coalition

Shadow Health Secretary also attacked ministers for criticising the health service because they wanted to make it easier to introduce privatisation

Theo Usherwood,Richard Wheeler,Arj Singh
Wednesday 25 September 2013 14:11 BST

The Government is taking the first steps to privatise the NHS and turn it into an American-style health service, Andy Burnham claimed today.

The shadow Health Secretary accused the Government of running down the NHS as part of a plan to "soften it up" for privatisation, telling delegates at the Labour Party conference in Brighton that many patients were being denied treatment simply because of where they lived.

Mr Burnham also alleged private firms were winning contracts to provide services because of donations they had made to the Conservative Party.

In a speech to the main hall, he accused Prime Minister David Cameron of setting unfair restrictions on NHS hospitals to provide a certain amount of private care.

He said: "Get ready for the next scandal - NHS hospitals, pushed by Mr Cameron to earn half their income from private patients, charging for beds left empty by these new restrictions.

"Think about that - NHS hospitals, built with public money, charging people for treatments that used to be free and (are) still free to people living elsewhere. NHS staff turned over to priority care of those who can pay or are in such pain they have to dig deep.

"Suffer or pay - the same old choice in a two-tier Tory NHS. We've got to wake people up to what is happening now. These are the first steps towards an American healthcare system, (with) English hospitals now asking for credit cards before they give care."

Mr Burnham also attacked ministers for criticising the NHS because they wanted to make it easier to introduce privatisation.

He said: "They have spent all year running it down and we know why, don't we? They are softening it up to sell it off.

"Look at what's happened: major contracts for NHS work won by Tory donors - donors who bankrolled Andrew Lansley when he was planning his health bill.

"And you can see why. Huge private health firms, run by people who have donated £1.5 million to the Tories, winning £1.5 billion in NHS contracts.

"Who gave this Prime Minister permission to sell the NHS to his friends? Nobody. He just did it, as born-to-rule Tories do."

Labour would give family carers home-based support and a named contact to help them co-ordinate their needs, Mr Burnham said.

He said if elderly people were taken to hospital they would be accompanied by care staff they knew to give them peace of mind.

The shadow health secretary said he wanted an NHS based on "people not profits" and committed to repealing the coalition's Health And Social Care Act in the first Queen's Speech.

Mr Burnham said: "Here it is, our new mission - to care for everyone's mum and dad in the way we wish for our own.

"By uniting social care with the NHS, we take the first meaningful step on the road to good care for all people in the 21st century.

"Labour - taking away the fear of old age.

"Whole person care - for children and adults with disabilities too. And at last a service that looks after people who care."

Mr Burnham said competition lawyers in "Cameron's NHS" were blocking integration by calling it "anti-competitive" and pledged to reform the "malnourished" social care system.

He said: "I have never been clearer about anything in my life than this: we will never, ever get the care we aspire to for our own parents, or indeed anyone's parents, from a malnourished, minimum-wage social care system dishing out care in 15-minute slots where there's barely time to make a cup of tea, let alone exchange a meaningful word, where over 300,000 care workers in England are on zero-hours contracts."

Earlier in a debate on healthcare, Dr Nik Johnson, Labour parliamentary candidate for Huntingdon, said NHS workers are scared for their patients.

The 44-year-old said he was proud to work for the NHS and saw new facilities emerge until 2010 when the coalition government took power.

He said: "The atmosphere in the NHS has changed. NHS workers are scared and we are scared for our patients.

"After three years I am seeing an unravelling of the good work of 13 years of Labour government investment. As a children's doctor I cannot and will not allow this to go on unchallenged."

On long delays for hospital treatment under the Conservatives in the 1990s: "I know it to be true because by 1996 I was actually working in an A&E department in King's College and I diagnosed my own appendicitis, and then I had to wait on a trolley until I went to emergency surgery."

Care worker Emma Clifford told delegates she faced "gut-wrenching" situations of having to walk away from patients who need more of her time - because she has none left to give.

Ms Clifford, a member of the Cheltenham constituency Labour Party, said: "I need more time to care. I am so proud and so excited to hear the Labour Party using terms like whole-person care and talking about integrating services. This is an approach which reflects the realities of giving and receiving care and it really will change lives for the better.

"But you have got to give me the time it will take to make it work. We do teach care workers in textbooks and online courses about the concept about whole-person care. But we do not give them the time to put it into practice.

"Simply put, there are rarely enough staff to do more than basic personal care tasks and even then we have to do those in a hurry. There is nothing more gut-wrenching than walking away from someone you know needs just a little bit more of your time when you literally have no more time to give.

"And when the next task is to help someone else to use the toilet to prevent them from sitting in their own urine or worse, I do not have the choice.

"The first person needs me just as much as the second person. It's a horrible decision to have to make and it's one I have to make most days.

"Unless our workforce grows with our ageing population it's a situation I am going to be in more and more often."

Ms Clifford said there is already a larger than average number of people aged 65 and over in Cheltenham, with that figure estimated to grow by 40% by 2029.

She said: "How am I and all the other carers going to find time to care for our elderly properly? I am going to need a huge workforce to do my job properly. Where is that workforce going to come from?

"I know it won't come from the Tories with their fixation on privatisation and profit. They're not going to build and nurture the workforce we need. They've got 5,000 nurses since they came into power. And it won't come from the Lib Dems either, who voted with their friends to open up our NHS to competition and to companies looking to treat people in my care like objects to buy and sell."


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