Page last updated at 22:20 GMT, Monday, 31 January 2011

David Miliband castigates ministers over NHS changes

Former foreign secretary David Miliband has strongly criticised the government's proposals to overhaul the NHS in England in his first Commons speech since losing out in the Labour leadership contest to his brother Ed.

During second reading debate on the Health and Social Care Bill on 31 January 2011, the former cabinet minister described the coalition's plans as a "set of poison pills" for the health service.

Mr Miliband has asked a number of questions to ministers since the leadership election, but he used his first substantial Commons contribution to warn MPs that the legislation "aims at irrevocable change and threatens real harm".

The bill would abolish primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, handing GP consortia responsibility for commissioning services for patients.

Mr Miliband said: "The choice is not between no reform and reform. The question is good reform versus bad reform.

"And my belief is that the proposals in front of us represent not a curate's egg of some good reforms and some bad reforms but actually a set of poison pills for the National Health Service.

"It's a poison pill first of all in the massive upheaval that it proposes at a time of unprecedented efficiency drive."

He accused Health Secretary Andrew Lansley of dodging responsibility for the quality of NHS care.

"His predecessor but six or eight or 10 - Nye Bevan - said he wanted a bedpan falling in Tredegar to be heard in the corridors of Whitehall," Mr Miliband said.

"The health secretary does not want to hear those bedpans falling - he wants to say it is GPs who should be making decisions or the commissioning board or, in ultimate irony, the European Court of Justice under European competition law."

But Health minister Simon Burns insisted that the NHS would "remain true to the founding principles of Nye Bevan".

He said: "This government has one objective: for the NHS to give its patients health outcomes which are amongst the best in the world.

"You cannot deliver excellence by ministers barking orders down the chain of command. It's done by encouraging innovation and creativity; putting the interests of patients ahead of the system and tomorrow's headlines."

The bill received its second reading by 321 to 235, a government majority of 86.

Watch part one of the debate here.

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