Labour has been accused of “rank hypocrisy” over the NHS as Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has admitted that the party plans to close hospitals and reduce the number of beds available if it takes power in May. His party has attacked both the Conservatives and UKIP over the National Health Service lately, accusing both parties of wanting to cut funding to the socialised healthcare provider.
Labour’s flagship plan for the NHS, due to be unveiled on Tuesday, focusses on merging health and social care into an integrated system. But in an interview with the Fabian Review, uncovered by the Sun on Sunday, Mr Burnham admits that the plan will necessarily lead to fewer hospitals and fewer beds.
Asked about his plans, Mr Burnham said: “Partly what I’d cut to pay for my policy are hospital beds.”
When further quizzed over whether the plan would also mean fewer hospitals, he replied: “We’re definitely saying that none of this is sacrosanct. We’re not going to be on every picket line opposing every closure.”
Aides to Mr Burnham last night confirmed that integrated care would mean fewer hospital beds, but were unable to put a figure on how many would be lost. They also argued that it wouldn’t matter, as more people would be treated in their homes.
However, bed blocking – in which patients are ready to leave hospital but have nowhere to go, preventing others from accessing hospital treatment – is rife within the NHS. The Mirror recently put the figure at 4,000 beds blocked every day, suggesting that any beds released by integrated health would still be very much needed.
Tory MP David Morris slammed Mr Burnham, saying: “He has spent five years scaremongering about hospital cuts, but it now emerges he has been secretly planning to slash hospital beds all along. It’s rank hypocrisy.”
Labour has put the NHS at the forefront of its election campaign, attacking both the Conservatives and UKIP on their loyalty to the service. But Labour leader Ed Miliband has been accused of wanting to “weaponise” the NHS; a phrase that he has not denied using.
And earlier this month, Miliband used Prime Ministers Questions to attack the Conservatives’ record on the health service as a crisis grew in Accident and Emergency departments across the country, claiming that “NHS as we know it will not exist” if the Conservatives remain in power for another five years.
Mr Cameron struck back, saying: “That only says to me, while we are interested in improving the NHS, you simply want to use it as a political football.
“The leader of the opposition apparently said to the political editor of the BBC: “I want to weaponise the NHS”,” he told the House of Commons.
“I think that is disgraceful. The NHS is not a weapon, it’s a way we care for our families, it’s the way we care for the elderly, it’s the way we look after the frail.”