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GP crisis ultimate proof of NHS reform failure, says Labour

The crisis in general practice illustrates the ‘failure’ of the Coalition Government’s NHS reforms, Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has said.

Mr Burnham said last year’s Health and Social Care Act reforms has brought down GP morale to its lowest ever, pushing despairing doctors to retire early from the profession while patients were having to wait longer to see a GP.

Accusing the Government of increasing NHS privatisation without a mandate from the public, Mr Burnham also said he had written to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens to demand that competition tendering of health services is frozen until next year’s general election.

Addressing an audience of members of the Unison trade union in Manchester today, he said: ‘If anything illustrates the failure of Mr Cameron’s reorganisation then surely it is what has happened to GP services. Four years on from promises to put GPs at the heart of the NHS, the Royal College of GPs said this week that the profession had “been brought to its knees”.’

‘A reorganisation which promised to empower GPs has proved an abject failure on its own terms. GP morale is at its lowest ever level, many are retiring early from the profession in despair, and services are in crisis. All the while, it is getting harder and harder to get a GP appointment. The slump in service standards is more marked in general practice than anywhere else in the NHS: in 2009/10, four out of five people said they saw a GP within 48 hours; now it is just two in five.’

He further called for a freeze on procurement of healthcare from non-NHS providers until the election.

Mr Burnham said: ‘The prime minister was not up front about these plans at the last election and he now needs to be reminded that he has never been given the permission of the public to put the NHS up for sale in this way. Further privatisation of services should not proceed until the public has had a proper say.’

‘So today I have written to the chief executive of NHS England to ask that no further contracts for NHS clinical services are signed until after the next election except where there are issues of patient safety or threats to service provision that need to be addressed urgently. This will give the country the chance to have a proper debate at the 2015 election and to decide what kind of health service it wants in the 21st century.’

As previously reported, Labour is backing a Bill to repeal section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act (2012), put forward last month by Labour MP for Eltham Clive Efford.

BMA deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand, who was present when Mr Burnham delivered the speech, said: ‘He was very clear about what has gone wrong in the NHS, and according to him the biggest culprit is section 75. He is committed to the notion that the market has no role to play in the NHS and that Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act.’

He added: ‘We in the BMA, although politically neutral, have raised our voices against section 75. Personally, this is music to my ears because I have no doubt in my mind that competition and privatisation is no good for healthcare in general and NHS in particular.’

But the Government said GPs on CCGs were taking the decisions on healthcare procurement.

A spokesperson said: ‘Use of the private sector by the NHS doubled in the last four years of Labour, a far bigger increase than under this government. Andy Burnham himself signed off the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital during Labour’s final year so it is pure political posturing to try to interfere with doctors making the best clinical judgements for patients.’