Corbyn accuses Tories of undermining NHS so more patients go private

Jeremy Corbyn Train

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested the government may be deliberately starving the NHS of resources to encourage people to pay for private care, as he gave his backing to junior doctors preparing to go on strike.

Related: Jeremy Hunt attacks 'intransigent' junior doctors' leaders - Politics live

The Labour leader said he stood fully behind the medics before their first 48-hour walkout withholding emergency care from Tuesday at 8am, as he warned that the NHS needed defending from Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary.

He told the conference of the Communication Workers Union in Bournemouth: “The NHS is underfunded. Every hospital has debts. Those debts are being met by selling assets and cutting back on services. I just sometimes wonder if there isn’t a deeper agenda here – to gradually reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Health Service at the same time as promoting the private medical industry.

“So the NHS becomes the service of last resort, rather than the universal first port of call for all of us.”

He said this was happening against the backdrop of the striking junior doctors. “In this week when the dispute is going on with the junior doctors, I simply say this: Jeremy Hunt and his government are trying to impose a contract on the junior doctors,” the Labour leader added.

“The junior doctors are absolutely passionately committed to healthcare. That is why they are doctors. They are committed to working in the National Heath Service. That’s why they are doctors within the National Health Service. So can we just say to Jeremy Hunt today: back off, we are supporting the junior doctors.”

Hunt is standing firm on the issue despite the strike being just hours away. He has rejected a Labour-brokered attempt at a compromise that could have led to the contract being piloted before being rolled out nationally.

Heidi Alexander, the Labour health spokeswoman, said it was not too late for Hunt to back down, calling on him to “do the right thing for patients, staff and the NHS and choose compromise over strikes”.

But in a Commons debate, Hunt called on doctors to abandon the full walkout and continue to provide emergency care. He also insisted the NHS was “busting a gut” to maintain patients’ safety during the industrial action.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 25th April 2016 18.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010