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Labour pledges to strip financial responsibility from GPs

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPs would not be given real budgets to commission care under a Labour government, and the opposition is ready to systematically dismantle the coalition's Health and Social Care Bill if it returns to power, the shadow health secretary has revealed.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, John Healey said he fundamentally disagreed with the closer alignment of clinical and financial responsibility, and pledged to reverse plans to hand GPs real commissioning budgets. He also said he would oppose the abolition of PCTs and 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 John Healey: His career so far

Worked as a journalist, a campaigner for national charities, and later in communications and campaigns with trade unions

May 1997
Elected as Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne

November 1999
Appointed as chancellor Gordon Brown's parliamentary secretary

June 2007
Appointed minister of state for local government

June 2009
Appointed minister of state for housing in Cabinet reshuffle

October 2010
Came second in the election for the shadow Cabinet and appointed shadow secretary of state for health by Ed Miliband

Video: Watch the interview