Labour has promised to immediately stop the proposed closures of A&Es and other health services across England and instead carry out a full-scale review of controversial government plans.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, revealed that a flagship commitment in his party’s manifesto, to be published later this month, will be a moratorium on so-called sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).
“We have listened to the hundreds of patients and campaigners up and down the country that have been pleading with the government to hear their concerns about their local services,” he said.
“Threats of hospitals being closed, A&E services moved miles up the road, and children’s wards being shut, have caused widespread concern and confusion. What is more, these decisions have been decided behind closed doors, with no genuine involvement of local people. It’s a disgrace.”
He said Labour would ask a new body – called NHS Excellence – to lead a review that would place local people at the heart of decisions.
STPs were meant to be necessary local blueprints designed to keep the NHS afloat in the face of massive pressure and a £22bn financial black hole. But they have caused huge controversy with critics claiming they amount to plans for hospital closures, cutbacks and radical changes to the way that health is delivered.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hit back by calling Labour’s policy proposal a “nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea”. He claimed that Ashworth had supported the policy as recently as December and that Labour had backed the plans in its last manifesto.
“These local plans are developed by local doctors and communities, backed by the top doctors and nurses of the NHS, and will improve patient care. This is all underpinned by an extra £10bn for the NHS, which we can only afford thanks to our strong economy,” he said, claiming Corbyn would put that at risk.
The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, said the original purpose behind the STP process of bringing fragmented parts of the service together was a good one. “But it is based on the fantasy that there is enough money to deliver this vision, when the plans are now hundreds of millions of pounds short,” he said.
Lamb argued that only the Lib Dems would take the “tough action” needed to increase investment by making the case for increasing tax to support the NHS.