Lord Darzi: Labour wrong to rule out private NHS care

Lord Darzi Image copyright PA

A former Labour health minister has told the BBC it is irrelevant whether NHS care is delivered by the private or the public sector.

Lord Darzi said the NHS should prefer providers who deliver the highest quality care - whether they are "public, private or not-for-profit".

His comments intensify a row within the Labour Party over outsourcing NHS care.

Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham recently said the private market was "not the answer".

But speaking to BBC Newsnight, Lord Darzi - one of the country's top surgeons - said the debate should focus on securing the best possible care - regardless of where it comes from.

"If the debate doesn't focus on the quality of care, then every patient and every clinician will know that the real argument about what matters has already been lost," he said.

'Outside pressure'

He is the latest Labour Party member to speak out against Mr Burnham's apparent change in policy.

Julian Le Grand, a former senior policy advisor to ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and an architect of many Labour health reforms, said competition within the health service "seems to work".

He said Mr Burnham was at risk of wasting money if he ignored it.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

"We learnt in the Blair government that you have to have pressure from outside if you're going to reform a poorly performing hospital," he said.

"That pressure can come from competition. It seems to work, it's a good thing to have and if Andy Burnham ends up pouring more money into the health service without that, that money is going to be wasted."

Mr Burnham has said a Labour government would reinstate the NHS as "preferred provider" of services to ensure hospitals worked together rather than in competition with each other

However, Mr Le Grande said the preferred provider policy was "daft".

'Very different moment'

"It's protectionist, it's going to protect the inefficient. It's going to protect the incompetence, it's going to protect the low quality service," he said.

"What we need is a healthy dose of competition in order to put pressure on reform, pressure on improvement, pressure on performance."

Earlier this month, Mr Burnham said the NHS was on "a path towards privatisation and marketisation".

He said if the NHS carried on with experimentation of the market it will "destroy everything that is precious"

Meanwhile, David Blunkett, a former cabinet minister under Tony Blair, appealed for calm within the party, telling Newsnight that now was not the time for "an unproductive battle between old and New Labour".

"We should be proud of the achievements of the past and visionary about the potential achievements of the future," the former home secretary said.

"This is a very different moment in time and the generation leading the party need our advice behind the scenes and our whole-hearted support in campaigning for success in the general election."

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