By a Newsnet reporter
Ed Miliband has come under fire after he took part in a pro-Union rally alongside a Labour peer who has said patients should be forced to pay £200 to see their GP.
Mr Miliband was in Glasgow yesterday along with around 90 Labour MPs in an effort at drumming up support for the campaign against Scottish independence.
The group were joined by Better Together leader Alistair Darling and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont on the steps outside Buchanan Galleries where Mr Miliband gave a speech to No campaign activists. In his speech, the Labour leader attacked SNP claims that the NHS in Scotland would be under threat if Scots vote No in next week’s referendum.
However Mr Miliband has been accused of ‘shameless hypocrisy’ after it emerged one of the leading figures at the Labour rally had recently called for patients to be charged in order to see GPs.
Labour peer Robert Winston, who stood alongside Mr Miliband and Johann Lamont at the rally, said patients should be charged £200 to see their GP so they “learn to appreciate the NHS”.
Last month he told The Sun: “The actual value of a hospital appointment is about £200.
“This is for the time of the consultant and the investigations or tests that might be done.
“So paying £10 or £20 is really not an effective way of dealing with that deficit.”
Winston’s demand that people be forced to pay £200 to see their GP followed calls from a former Labour health minister, Lord Warner, who in July warned the NHS was ‘unaffordable’ and ‘out-of-date’. He said everyone should pay a £10-a-month fee to use the NHS, and he called for the levy to be paid before anyone could benefit from free treatment.
The decision by Mr Miliband and Ms Lamont to stand alongside Winston has been seized on by the SNP who called the move a ‘blunder’.
Commenting, SNP MSP Michael Matheson said:
“This blunder by Ed Miliband sums up the shameless hypocrisy of the No camp and the leadership the Labour party’s double standards.
“Lord Winston might come across on the television as an eccentric but sadly this Labour peer wants to tax the sick – and yet Ed Miliband is happy to campaign with him in Glasgow.
“The Westminster Tories – seemingly with backing from Labour peers like Lord Winston – are privatising the NHS in England.
“Under the Westminster system, cuts to spending in England automatically trigger cuts in Scotland. So if private money replaces public funding in England, a No vote leaves the money we get back from the treasury at the mercy of being slashed no matter what we want or need.
“No wonder more and more Labour voters are waking up to the gains that a Yes vote will bring. With independence we will have control of both our tax system and the budget for public services, so we can protect the NHS and other vital public services from Westminster privatisation.”
The NHS has become a key battleground in the NHS with both sides insisting it will be safe. The Yes campaign has warned that the creeping privatisation agenda south of the border will eventually lead to cuts in the Scottish grant, which is set by Westminster, which will make it more difficult to protect the Scottish NHS.
Labour politicians in Scotland have claimed that the NHS is devolved to Scotland and that there is no threat from English privatisation.
However last week it emerged that at least three Scottish Labour MPs have already publicly acknowledged that devolution alone cannot protect the Scottish NHS, and that Tory privatisation could lead to cuts being imposed north of the border.
Ann McKechin, Sandra Osborne and Katy Clark have all warned about the “knock-on” effect on Scotland of Tory NHS privatisation, which all three say will “severely damage” the NHS in England.
McKechin, who was a junior Scotland Office minister in the last Labour Government, said it was “inevitable” that changes south of the border would hit the Scottish health service.
“Although management of NHS Scotland has been successfully devolved for over a decade it does not exist in a vacuum and I believe it is inevitable that changes affecting 85% of patients in the UK will put pressures on the devolved nations.” she said.
Her colleague Katy Clark echoed the concerns expressed by McKechin, saying she feared the NHS in England may be “seriously damaged” by the current government which would, she said, impact on the Scottish NHS.
She said: “The NHS in England may be seriously damaged by the Government’s Bill and this will have a knock on effect in Scotland given the current co-operation between the services north and south of the border….[the Bill] will massively increase private involvement in the delivery of services and could threaten the NHS both in England and Scotland.”
Fellow Labour MP Sandra Osborne said: “Even though Health is a devolved matter and the proposed legislation will not apply here that has not stopped people in Scotland expressing their fears that the Tory Government plan to seriously damage the NHS with this Bill. I have received a huge number of letters and emails expressing concerns which I share.”