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Milburn: NHS reforms create ‘bureaucracy and inefficiency’

Former Labour health boss calls for more competition from private sector

Mark Gould

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, now David Cameron’s social mobility advisor, has attacked the coalition’s amended plans for the NHS reform.

The plans were redrawn this week in the wake a tide of protest from doctors, nurses and patients who feared they paved the way for a privatised service.

But Mr Milburn, who unsuccessfully tried to introduce more competition from the private sector as health secretary under Gordon Brown, says the government cave-in which brings GPs, hospital doctors and nurses into local health decision making “senates” and guarantees more collaboration within the NHS and less competition from outside providers, will create more bureaucracy and expense.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today he describes the plans as the "biggest car crash" in the service's history, and said taxpayers faced writing "a very large cheque" as efficiency savings were unachievable.

Mr Milburn described the new policy as the "biggest nationalisation since Nye Bevan created the NHS in 1948" and said overall control had been handed to a body - the NHS Commissioning Board - which he described as "the daddy of all quangos".

Mr Milburn, who left Parliament at the 2010 election, said scrapping the 2013 deadline for giving GP consortia control of commissioning would result in a "patchwork of decision-making for years to come".

On the need to make £20bn in efficiency savings, he asked: "So how will the NHS books be balanced? By the usual device which policy-makers have deployed every decade or so in the NHS. A very large cheque.

"It was precisely the situation David Cameron and George Osborne were trying to avoid. Sorry George, but the cash you were saving in your pre-election Budget for tax cuts will now have to be spent on a bail-out for the health service."

He added: "The promise of the coalition was that it would go where New Labour feared to tread when it came to public service reform. There would be no no-go areas.

"In fact David Cameron's retreat has taken his party to a far less reformist and more protectionist position than that adopted by Tony Blair and even that of his predecessor Gordon Brown."

He described the current situation regarding public service reform as "an open goal for Ed Miliband's Labour Party" but warned the leadership about its own reaction to the NHS climbdown.

He added: "The temptation, of course, is for Labour to retreat to the comfort zone of public sector producer-interest protectionism - and there were signs of that in the party's response to the government's U-turn this week.

"It would be unwise, in my view, for Labour to concede rather than contest the reform territory. It now has an opportunity to re-stake its claim to be the party of progressive, radical reform."

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