England's potential health secretaries clash on NHS reform

Health spokesmen from the three main parties clashed in a lively pre-election debate in London today.

(L-R) Andy Burnham, Andrew Lansley and Norman Lamb
(L-R) Andy Burnham, Andrew Lansley and Norman Lamb

In a similar format to the televised leaders' debates, health secretary Andy Burnham debated questions from the audience with Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb and Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley.

All three health leaders ruled out front-line job cuts and advocated improvements in efficiency, preventative care and public health. With little difference between the parties' health policies, the debate soon descended into a point-scoring exercise.

The audience of health experts frequently broke out into laughter as Mr Burnham and Mr Lamb attacked Conservative shadow Mr Lansley in a series of heated exchanges.

Mr Lamb first attacked Mr Lansley over the funding his personal office received from Care UK's chief executive, John Nash.

Mr Burnham then attacked Mr Lansley's ‘double-standards' during his election campaigning. He said Mr Lansley had been opposing local service changes while campaigning across Manchester.

‘He's dug himself into a hole here. You say you will support doctors to reform services up and down the country but you are doing the precise opposite.'

The health secretary later came under fire himself over a report by consultants McKinsey that is thought to have informed NHS London's controversial plans to close local hospitals.

When pushed as to why local patients and clinicians could not see the document, he said: ‘It's not my decision.'

The subject of funding for social care again came up but little consensus was reached.

Mr Lansley was blamed for the breakdown of cross-party talks and his policy of a voluntary levy was rubbished by Mr Burnham and Mr Lamb.

Mr Lamb said Labour and the Conservatives should stop making unfunded promises on healthcare and improve the existing NHS.

News blog: Pre-election squabble doesn't point to hung parliament harmony 

Click here to watch a video of the debate

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