Mr Burnham's letter was prompted by comments from NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson at the RCGP conference earlier this month. GP reported that Sir David warned against 'carpet bombing' the NHS with competition, and suggested it should be used as a more targeted 'rifle shot' to improve selected services.
The Labour shadow health secretary suggested that the comments showed a split between the NHS leadership and the government. He said: 'We knew there were widespread professional concerns about government plans to turn the NHS into a free market but it is now clear they go to the very top. At this critical moment, the NHS can't afford to have its chief executive and the health secretary in open disagreement.'
A DH spokesman said: 'Sir David was speaking in favour of increased autonomy of our NHS and about strong local leadership of healthcare, which is something the government greatly supports.
'Competition isn't about privatisation - the NHS will always be free for everyone who is sick or ill. Competition is about giving patients more choice and better care, and has existed in the NHS for a long time, since it was introduced by the previous government to the great benefit of patients.'
Watch a video of Sir David's appearance at the RCGP conference here.