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The NHS is ‘lost’, says Burnham

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has told Pulse that the NHS is already ‘lost’ and any further privatisation would make it ‘irretrievable’.

Mr Burnham said the Health and Social Care Act has led to the privatisation of the health service becoming ‘a bit of a juggernaut’ and another five years of the coalition Government, or a Conservative majority at the next election, will mean there will be ‘nothing left to save’.

He also defended plans to remove the control of budgets from CCGs and give them to health and wellbeing boards in a bid to prevent conflicts of interest.

Mr Burnham said on 4 March that ‘we have two weeks to save the NHS’, referring to the Lords vote on the Section 75 regulations, which stated that commissioners must put services out to tender unless they could demonstrate that only one provider was suitable for that particular service.

Although some revisions were made to the legislation, the Lords voted it through on 24 April. When asked whether the section 75 regulations going through meant the NHS was lost, he said: ‘As it stands, it is lost. Let me absolutely clear. When the [Health and Social Care]Bill was passed, it put in the foundations for a market.

‘The more time goes on, the more irretrievable the situation becomes – the more contracts are signed, the more services that are privatised, the harder it becomes for me to bring it back. It doesn’t happen overnight. The Bill has put in place the conditions that can accelerate this process.’

He added: ‘This privatisation agenda is becoming a bit of a juggernaut… My argument to the medical profession is that they will look at our time in government and say “you didn’t get everything right” and I will say fair enough and I have acknowledged where we need to do things differently going forward.

‘But I do ask them – in 2015, I think the NHS we all hold dear, we can glue it back together. If the coalition or a majority Conservative government win in 2015, if we have another five years of the atomisation of the NHS, I don’t think there will be anything to save in 2020.’

He also explained that his plans for moving control of CCG budgets to health and wellbeing boards – first will still leave room for clinical commissioning. He said: ‘I’ve always supported clinical involvement in commissioning, and I am not talking about abolishing CCGs. But I am saying let’s think about the broader picture… I don’t think clinical domination or even control of commissioning is a good thing as it enshrines a conflict of interest in the system. I think we’ll see this played out in the system in the coming months and years.’

The focus on the whole needs – and not just the medical needs – of the population may need a change in GP training to include a greater emphasis on mental health, he added.

He said: ‘I think there is a greater need for more mental health training for GPs. I think mental ill health is another of the bigger challenges of the 21st century and the first place to see that is the GP surgery. That is only going to grow…. It may have implications for training. But we want to work with the profession on that. True generalism is about thinking about that and understanding the whole person.’

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