If Labour is weaponising the NHS, maybe it needs to sharpen its tools. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham had a difficult and ill-tempered interview on Newsnight yesterday about what he actually thinks about private sector involvement in the NHS. When asked about the role he sees for the private sector under his reshaped health service, Burnham said private companies would not be entirely excluded:
‘There is still a role for private and voluntary providers but I also did say very clearly that the market is not the answer.’
Presented with a graph (below) showing how private sector outsourcing grew to four per cent under Labour — but rose two per cent under the coalition — Burnham was unable to say what he thinks is the right level:
‘There isn’t a right percentage. I’m very clear that the NHS should be our preferred provider so I don’t see a role for the private sector where it can replace core public provision at the heart of every community.’
Wark tried again, asking Burnham which operations he thinks are suitable for outsourcing. Varicose veins? Hernias? Chemotherapy? Again, he failed to give a clear answer and contracted himself by saying GPs should have a choice:
‘The GP has got to be able to make the best decision for the patient…I said to you very clearly at the start of this interview, there is a role for the private and voluntary sector…it’s a supporting role, not a replacement role. It’s not so hard to understand.’
Burnham eventually gave up any pretence of trying to answer the questions and resorted to platitudes. He ‘believes in a service that puts people before profits’ and said the coalition government is putting an ‘alien ideology at the heart’.
But the facts presented didn’t back that up and suggested Labour only cares about giving the private sector a kicking. The NHS needs reform and has structural problems but Burnham did not inspire much confidence that he is the man to solve those problems. He seemed to think that attacking markets was more important than pursuing what is best for patients, without an explanation of why he thinks markets are always bad for healthcare standards. There were two simple questions Burnham needed to answer:
- What per cent does Labour see as the right one for private sector outsourcing the NHS?
- What kind of operations does Labour think can be outsourced?
He is appearing again on the Daily Politics today so we’ll see if he has discovered the answers over night. Plus, he has to contend with an intervention from Alan Milburn, who has lambasted his ‘comfort zone strategy’.