Some NHS hospitals are planning to use new freedoms granted them by the coalition government to double the number of patients they treat privately this year, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham warned.
Mr Burnham said that the new freedom for hospitals in England to earn 49% of their income from private work would “damage the character and culture” of the NHS and take it closer to an American model.
He will today publish documents obtained through freedom of information requests, which he said would show some hospitals are planning to make full use of the change, which came into effect earlier this week.
At a fringe meeting hosted by the New Statesman on the eve of his keynote speech to Labour’s Manchester conference, Mr Burnham said that the government’s NHS reforms were creating a “fragmented” health system at a time when mounting pressures from an ageing population meant integration was needed.
“In this broken-down world where each hospital is on its own, making its own budgets, they are going to start using these new freedoms,” he warned.
“Already, there are hospitals that are planning to double private patients this year.
“That measure on its own will immediately change the culture of English hospitals. They will start growing into the American model of private and public. It’s a worrying thing.”
Mr Burnham said that the reforms introduced by former health secretary Andrew Lansley had already produced “random rationing and a postcode lottery running riot”.
And he said that contracts were being signed this week to take more than 300 community services out of the NHS altogether.
In a parody of a Tory election poster featuring David Cameron’s promise to protect the NHS, Mr Burnham said he may launch a poster with the PM’s face alongside the slogan: “I cut the NHS, not the deficit.”
Mr Burnham said he would oppose “to the hilt” proposals for regional pay in the NHS, which he said would lead to hospitals poaching staff from one another and drive costs up in the long run.