Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith will lash out at the Conservatives' "secret plan to privatise the NHS" on Monday in a bid to reach out to his rival Jeremy Corbyn's core base.
Smith will warn that almost 8% of NHS spending went on buying healthcare from private providers in 2015-16 – double the level in 2009-10, when Labour was in power.
His speech in Salford is aimed at winning over left-wing voters and convincing them he is a radical choice as leader. It follows criticism of his previous career as a lobbyist for drug company Pfizer.
But a spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign told BuzzFeed News Smith should prove his pro-NHS credentials by joining Corbyn on the picket line supporting junior doctors.
Speaking after a visit to Trafford General Hospital, Smith will say: "It is now clear that [prime minister] Theresa May has given Jeremy Hunt the green light to start privatising our health service.
"Within days of his reappointment as health secretary, he had officials drawing up secret plans to privatise the NHS.
"Like many families across Britain my family is relying on the health service at this very moment. The NHS is our country’s most valued institution – and people will be shocked to hear that the Tories have been putting together a secret plan to privatise it.
"We all rightly contribute to the NHS through our taxes – but we must make sure that money is spent on doctors and nurses, and not lining the pockets of private sector shareholders."
He will point to Department of Health figures showing that £8.7 billion was spent on buying healthcare from non-NHS providers in 2015-16 – more than double the £4.1 billion spent in 2009-10.
A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign told BuzzFeed News: "We welcome Owen Smith finally catching up with Jeremy Corbyn's longstanding campaign to halt the privatisation of the NHS.
"However, will he now also support Jeremy's call for bringing our NHS fully back into public ownership by getting private health providers out of the system so it can carry on providing the best healthcare in the world free at the point of use?
"And will he join Jeremy on the picket line supporting the junior doctors in their dispute with this government, fighting for decent conditions and a genuinely national NHS, so we can have a truly united Labour party against the Tories and the private healthcare lobbyists?
"Or does the 'disunity candidate' also want continued disunity in our NHS too?"
The Department of Health rejected Smith's claims about privatisation. A spokesperson said: "This analysis is simply wrong – this government was the first to ensure that doctors, not politicians, make decisions about who provides care."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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