Conservatives ‘testing the water’ for ‘two-tier’ NHS, Gordon Brown claims

Former prime minister Gordon Brown warned the Tories were ‘testing the water for a different kind of NHS’ (File picture)  (PA Archive)
Former prime minister Gordon Brown warned the Tories were ‘testing the water for a different kind of NHS’ (File picture) (PA Archive)

The Conservatives are “testing the water for a different kind of NHS” by suggesting ideas such as paid GP appointments, Gordon Brown has claimed.

The former Prime Minister said that the Tories were “contemplating a more privately financed healthcare system”, but warned that introducing payments would only lead to early diagnoses being missed.

In an op-ed for The Times last week, former Health Secretary Sajid Javid argued that the NHS would not “survive much longer” without radical reform, such as the introduction of payments for GP appointments.

Mr Javid cited the £20 required to see a GP in Norway or Sweden, or Ireland’s policy of charging £66 for treatment in A&E.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Brown said that the former Cabinet minister’s claims were “no accident” and that the direction the party is travelling in “is already clear”.

“The sick would pay for being sick and charging would force – as has happened with GP and hospitals in France – the better-off sections of the population to take out private insurance, inevitably creating, in its wake, a two-tier healthcare system.

“Today’s Conservatives may have clapped NHS nurses and health workers at the height of the pandemic; yet they are not only opposing decent remuneration for them but also contemplating a more privately financed healthcare system.

“It reminds us that exactly 75 years ago they opposed the introduction of the NHS, having attempted in 1944 to impose charges and private insurance.”

During his campaign for the Tory leadership, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out plans to fine patients £10 for missing a GP or hospital appointment.

But he backtracked on the pledge after it was widely criticised by health leaders, signalling the controversy surrounding any reforms that could threaten the principle of free NHS care at the point of need.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been approached for comment.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said of Mr Javid’s claims: “Over my dead body. An NHS free at the point of use has been its central equitable principle for 75 years. Patients should never have to worry about the bill.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there were “no plans” to introduce fees for GP appointments.

Labour have also proposed a major overhaul of the NHS, with Mr Streeting earlier this month arguing that reform “is not a Conservative word.”

“In recent elections, the left has given a lot of people the impression the answer to everything is to pour more money in,” he told The Guardian.

“Of course, investment is needed in the NHS, but ask any patient about their miserable experiences and it’s partly about culture and systems. That’s got to change too.”

Mr Streeting’s proposals to make general practitioners salaried NHS employees have been criticised in some quarters of the medical profession.

The current model sees self-employed GPs run their own practices under contracts awarded by the NHS.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that the current system needs an overhaul as the pressure on GP surgeries is causing more people to resort to attending hospital instead.