GPs will be given new powers to charge patients as a result of the Government's controversial health service reforms, Labour leader Ed Miliband has warned.
Mr Miliband said that the Health and Social Care Bill would impose European Union (EU) and UK competition law on the NHS - potentially exposing hospitals to "huge fines" of up to 10% of their income.
Speaking at a press conference at Labour Party headquarters in London, he said that detailed scrutiny of the legislation was throwing up fresh concerns about the implications for patients.
"This bill is a Pandora's Box. The more people look at the detail, the more profound and worrying the implications appear to be for the NHS," he said.
Mr Miliband pointed to provisions in the legislation which give GPs new powers to charge for services, while taking away the role of the Health Secretary in deciding what services the NHS should provide and transferring it to GPs.
"I take David Cameron at his word when he says he has no intention of undermining the principle of providing healthcare free at the point of need," he said. "But I have never heard the Government explain what the effect of this transfer of power over charging to GPs will be, nor seek to defend it."
He said that ministers had conceded during the committee stage of the bill that the NHS would increasingly be liable to both EU and UK competition law as a result of the Government's market reforms.
The result would be that hospitals could be fined up to 10% of their income if they were found to have breached the legislation, which would deter hospitals from working with each other. At the same time, he said that hospitals would also be subject to insolvency laws, which would mean that they could go bust in the same way as commercial businesses.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley flatly denied that the Bill would allow GPs to charge or extend competition law to the NHS. He said that insolvency arrangements put in place by the former Labour government would stop hospitals going bust.
"Ed Miliband is deliberately misleading the public. It is wholly inappropriate for him to use the NHS as a political football like this," he said. "Labour have no vision for our NHS except to cut the budget. Their constant scaremongering on the NHS has to stop."