'People-powered services' pledge
Patients will be involved from the outset in planning any changes to NHS services in their area under a Labour government, Ed Miliband promised today.
The pledge forms part of the Labour leader's plans for "people-powered public services", which also include new rights for parents to secure intervention in problem schools and for individuals to access real-time information about anything from parking permit applications to the progress of police investigations into crimes.
Mr Miliband said that a Labour government would tackle "inequalities of power" to put ordinary people in the driving seat in shaping the services which they use.
Under his plans, no changes to NHS services could be proposed by a Clinical Commissioning Group unless patient representatives were involved in drawing it up. Public consultations would be run by an independent body, rather than by the CCG or hospital trust proposing the change. And Labour would reverse legislation being sought by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to give him the power to impose changes to services across a whole region.
A new expectation would be placed on GPs that, as well as offering diagnosis and treatment, they will put patients in touch with support groups where they can make contact with people with the same conditions.
In a high-profile speech in London, Mr Miliband said the commitment to tackle inequalities of power will be at the heart of Labour's agenda for the 2015 general election, alongside measures to tackle inequalities of wealth and the "unaccountable power" of private organisations like the energy companies and the banks.
Delivering the annual Hugo Young lecture, the Labour leader said: "I care about inequality of income and opportunity. But I care about something else as well. Inequalities of power.
"Everyone - not just those at the top - should have the chance to shape their own lives."
Voters were as frustrated by "the unresponsive state" as the "untamed market", and efforts to involve private companies into the delivery of public services had often replaced "a large public sector bureaucracy with a large private sector bureaucracy", said Mr Miliband, adding: "It turns out that the Serco/G4S state can be as flawed as the centralised state."
David Cameron's promise of a Big Society had delivered "in some cases the monolithic private sector replacing a monolithic public sector; in others a crude application of market principles which simply hasn't worked; and in others still, leaving the unsupported voluntary sector to pick up the pieces where the state has abdicated its responsibility", said the Labour leader.
Under Labour, central government would set key benchmarks for what people can expect from public services, but how specific services are delivered would no longer be "dictated from Whitehall", he said.
"The time demands a new culture in our public services," said Mr Miliband. "Not old-style, top-down central control, with users as passive recipients of services. Nor a market-based individualism which says the answer is to transplant the principles of the private sector lock, stock and barrel into the public sector.
"Instead, we need a new culture of people-powered public services. We should always be seeking to put more power in the hands of patients, parents and all the users of services. Giving them a voice as well as choice."
Accusing Mr Cameron of "monumentally" breaking his pre-election promise to have a moratorium on hospital changes, Mr Miliband said he would not make a similar pledge, as "no service can stand still".
But he added: "A Labour government will ensure that patients are involved right at the outset: understanding why change might be needed, what the options are and making sure everyone round the table knows what patients care about.
"This is just one example of how we can involve people in the key decisions that affect their lives. Not saying change will never happen. But saying no change will happen without people having their say."
Labour's approach to public services will work on the principle that information on individuals should be "owned by and accessible to the individual, not hoarded by the state", Mr Miliband said.
Rather than having to demand information, people should get access to it unless there is a "very good reason" for it to be withheld, he said.
This could involve schools providing parents with information about their children's progress all year round, rather than just in end-of-term reports, or the Government's digital service using new technology to provide "tracking" facilities for individuals to get updates on their case in the same way that online shoppers track their orders.
Ideas emerging from Labour policy reviews into how to devolve more power to local councils were also outlined by Mr Miliband, in what he termed "a radical reshaping of services so that local communities can come together and make the decisions that matter to them" on issues like social care, crime and justice.
The MP overseeing the Opposition's policy review, Jon Cruddas, has been consulting with council leaders across the country over the plans, while Lord Adonis has been leading a study on the potential for creating "city regions" with more control over infrastructure funds.
"We are standing where the British people stand," said Mr Miliband. "They want a Government that will stand up for them against unaccountable power, wherever it is. They want more control over their own lives.
"I am determined that that is what the next Labour government will do."