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Labour : ‘we would not give GPs real budgets’

Shadow health secretary, John Healey, has said he would reverse plans to give GPs real commissioning budgets if Labour returned to power.

In an exclusive interview with Practical Comissioning’s sister paper Pulse, Mr Healey revealed the opposition is ready to systematically dismantle the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill.

Mr Healey said he fundamentally disagreed with the closer alignment of clinical and financial, the abolition of PCTs and would put the brakes on health secretary Andrew Lansley’s expansion of the NHS market.

The shadow health secretary said Labour would strip Monitor of its new expanded duty to enforce competition, and continue his predecessor Andy Burnham’s policy of making the NHS the ‘preferred provider’.

His stance on commissioning comes despite the previous Labour administration’s move to offer some GPs real budgets under practice-based commissioning.

Mr Healey said this policy would not be pursued in the future, claiming real budgets would jeopardise the doctor-patient relationship by creating insurmountable conflicts of interest.

‘It has the potential to undermine the essential trust between a GP and a patient,’ he said. ‘The commissioning function is a public function. It can be largely led by GPs, but it should have the governance, accountability and the status of a properly and publicly accountable body.’

On the NHS market, he also put clear blue water between Labour and the coalition Government, which he claimed was courting the private sector on ideological grounds.

He said: ‘We were ready to use private providers, especially where it added a capacity to help clear waiting lists, where it helped to see things done that the NHS wasn’t doing or couldn’t do. But it was always in a planned, managed and fully publicly accountable way.’

While acknowledging that the next election could come some time after the GP commissioning handover in 2013, Mr Healey said Labour’s energies in the short term would be focused on fighting the health bill, including the removal of the whole of part three, which lays out Monitor’s role in policing the NHS market.

He said: ‘I see this reorganisation as like an iceberg. There is a small part that ministers talk about – reducing bureaucracy, setting up GP commissioning – and then a huge ideological bulk below the waterline that they won’t talk about.

‘We’re less than one year into the new Government. They’ve legislated for it to run five years. I and Labour will produce a full alternative to the Government plans. But for now, our main duty is to challenge the plans strongly.’

John Healey