Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has promised to repeal the controversial Health and Social Care Act should Labour win the next election in 2015.
The former health secretary made the pledge yesterday in his speech to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester.
Mr Burnham used much of his speech to criticise the privatisation of the NHS, which he said was taking place in “secret” and at a “pace and scale never seen before”.
He claimed the coalition had inherited a “self-confident and successful NHS” from Labour, which he said had now been reduced to a “service demoralised, destabilised, [and] fearful of the future”.
He told delegates the party needed to give health service staff “hope” for the future.
“To all patients and staff worried about the future, hear me today: the next Labour government will repeal Cameron’s Act,” he said. “We will stop the sell-off, put patients before profits, restore the N in NHS.”
However, Mr Burnham acknowledged that his government had made mistakes while in power. He said some of the NHS private finance initiative deals agreed under Labour were “poor value for money” and that, at times, care of older patients “simply wasn’t good enough”.
“And while we brought waiting lists down to record lows, with the help of the private sector, at times we let the market in too far,” he added.
Mr Burnham also told delegates that the views of a nurse about care of older patients had made an “impression” on him during a hospital visit in the Midlands.
He said: “Too many older people are suffering in hospital, disorientated and dehydrated. When I shadowed a nurse at the Royal Derby, I asked her why this happens.
“It’s not that modern nurses are callous, she said. Far from it, it’s simply that frail people in their 80s and 90s are in hospitals in ever greater numbers and the NHS front-line, designed for a different age, is in danger of being overwhelmed.”
Mr Burnham said current NHS hospitals were “simply not geared to meet people’s social or mental care needs”.
“They can take too much of a production-line approach, seeing the isolated problem – the stroke, the broken hip – but not the whole person behind it. If we don’t change that, we won’t deliver the care people need in an era when there’s less money around,” he said.
Mr Burnham suggested that fully integrating health and social care was a potential solution that Labour would be considering during a health policy review.
“We can get better results for people if we think of one budget, one system caring for the whole person – with councils and the NHS working closely together.”
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had said he would not commit to future increases in health spending.
In his first interview after taking on the role, Mr Hunt told the Spectator magazine it was impossible to make such commitments without knowing what the economic outlook was going to look like. However, he said it would be difficult to imagine circumstances in which such spending increases would not happen.
His predecessor, Andrew Lansley, had promised that spending on the NHS would increase in real terms for the foreseeable future, but set a target of finding £20bn efficiency savings by 2015.