By Martin Kelly
The Labour party has been accused of giving out two completely different messages over the NHS, telling voters in Scotland it was safe before the independence referendum but now claiming it is under threat.
In a speech today, Labour’s shadow health spokesman Andy Burnham said that “true whole person care” was “not possible in Cameron’s fragmented, privatised, demoralised” NHS and argued that the 2015 election would be “a battle for the soul of the NHS”.
The shadow Health Secretary accused the UK Government of running down the NHS as part of a plan to “soften it up” for privatisation.
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.”
The Labour MP warned that people would require credit cards to access what he described as “the first steps towards an American healthcare system”.
Attacking coalition ministers who he said wanted to make it easier to introduce privatisation, the Labour MP added:
“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.”
However Mr Burnham’s comments were described as “breath-taking hypocrisy” by the SNP, with MSP Dr Aileen McLeod accusing Labour of having introduced privatisation south of the border, including the signing off on the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital.
The SNP published two tweets which appeared to show the Labour party saying one thing about the NHS before the referendum, only to say the opposite after the vote.
Dr McLeod, who sits on the Health Committee, said:
“This is absolutely breath-taking hypocrisy from the Labour Party – just days after assuring people in Scotland that the NHS would be safe with a No vote, Andy Burnham says that the NHS is facing privatisation from the Tories.
“Yet again, the Labour party say one thing in political campaigns in Scotland and another thing completely south of the border.
“And the fact is that no matter how much they try to hide it, it was the Labour party who opened the floodgates on NHS privatisation in England – until Andy Burnham accepts responsibility for this his words simply have no credibility.
“With this track record it is absolutely no wonder that the Labour Party in Scotland are ‘in danger of dying out’ according to Henry McLeish – ordinary people in traditional Labour heartlands are completely fed up with Labour facing one way in Scotland and another in Westminster, which is why more and more of them are switching to the SNP.
“In contrast to Labour’s failures, the record of the SNP in government is second to none when it comes to our NHS – protecting funding, delivering on standards and guaranteeing the wage rises of our nurses. But with more cuts coming down the line from Westminster our NHS budget is going to be put under real pressure.
“That’s exactly why we’ll continue to argue for the substantial economic powers the No parties promised the people of Scotland during the referendum campaign – to allow us to protect our NHS funding from the impact of the cuts and privatisation agenda of a Tory government we didn’t vote for. The people of Scotland won’t accept anything less.”