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Burnham pledges to repeal health act and turns fire on ‘invisible’ health secretary

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has launched a fierce attack on the NHS reforms, pledging to repeal the health act and instead calling for much greater integration of NHS services.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, Mr Burnham said he wanted to make the next general election a ‘referendum on health’. Read his full speech here.

He warned that hundreds of NHS community services worth around £250m had been put out to tender, inviting intense interest from the private sector.

He said: ‘At least 37 private bidders - and yes, friends of Dave amongst the winners. Not the choice of GPs, who we were told would be in control. But a forced privatisation ordered from the top.’

Turning his fire on new health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Burnham accused him of not showing an interest in the NHS.

‘It’s hard to be a shadow when you’re up against the Invisible Man,’ he said. ‘Hunt Jeremy – the search is on for the missing health secretary.’

‘A month in the job but not a word about thousands of nursing jobs lost. Not one word about crude rationing, older people left without essential treatment.’

Mr Burnham pledged to reverse the changes made by the coalition Government and said he wanted to create an NHS that embodied ‘whole person care with mental health at its heart’.

He added that the party would not need to re-organise the structure of the NHS and that he had never been against involving doctors in commissioning, but preferred to champion greater integration: ‘Not hospital against hospital or doctor against doctor. But working together, putting patients before profits.’

Mr Burnham also addressed mistakes he said Labour had made in the past and singled out care of the elderly and PFI deals, some of which he said had represented ‘poor value for money’. He also admitted Labour had let the private sector market in too far to the NHS.

Mr Burnham said that he wanted the health system to work as one and get local authorities involved in caring for the individual.

He said: ‘It means councils developing a more ambitious vision for local people’s health: matching housing with health and care need; getting people active, less dependent on care services, by linking health with leisure and libraries; prioritising cycling and walking.’

He also said the Labour party would launch a review of public health policy, to be led by shadow health minister Diane Abbott.

Responding to Mr Burnham’s speech, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: ‘Delivering genuine whole-person care is of course what we would all aspire to.’

‘Doctors have long called for closer integration of services within and beyond the NHS, but this has been hampered by policies from successive governments over many years. The Health and Social Care Act takes us further in a market-based direction, opening up the likelihood of fragmentation rather than collaboration.’

‘What we don’t know from Andy Burnham’s speech is how he intends to achieve this. Yet more, major structural change, would be hugely disruptive, and particularly when the NHS is likely to face considerable financial pressure for some time still to come.  It would be better to concentrate on reducing fragmentation by removing the artificial split between purchasers and providers of healthcare.’

Read Andy Burnham’s full speech here.