Balls warning over NHS charges
The scale of public spending cuts planned by the Conservatives mean a "real risk" that patients will face more charges for NHS services, Labour has claimed.
Ed Balls claimed the Conservative strategy to reduce public spending to 35% of GDP in 2019-20 would mean the NHS would be unrecognisable from the service that exists today.
The shadow chancellor based his claim on analysis of developed countries with a lower proportion of public spending as a share of GDP, which showed people paid more out of their own pockets for healthcare.
"What George Osborne is proposing represents a real risk to the future of the health service," Mr Balls told the Guardian.
Labour's analysis of figures for countries in the OECD group of developed nations showed that four economies have public spending of 35% of GDP or less, all of which have greater "out-of-pocket expenditure" as a share of total health spending.
In Switzerland, the 2012 figure showed public spending at 33% of GDP and out-of-pocket expenditure at 28% of total expenditure on health, while Mexico had public spending at 27% of GDP and out-of-pocket spending made up 44% of health expenditure.
The comparable figure for the UK was public spending at 45% of GDP and out-of-pocket spending accounting for just 10% of healthcare funding.
Mr Balls said: "This is what the overseas experience shows if you go to these extreme levels of low public spending. There is a real risk that a second Tory government will introduce charges."
The Conservatives have insisted they will protect health funding and the Chancellor has announced an extra £2 billion of funding for 2015/16 as a "down payment" for future increases.
The NHS has been at the centre of a bitter political row between the two main parties, with Labour leader Ed Miliband failing to deny reports that he wanted to "weaponise" the health service to make it an advantage for his party in the election campaign.
Mr Balls denied he was scaremongering and said the director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson had questioned whether the Tory plans might require a "fundamental reimagining of the role of the state".
The shadow chancellor said: "In that light it is quite legitimate to ask questions about what the NHS will look like in this world.
"It is right to point out that all countries that have gone down to this level of public spending have much, much greater degrees of charging for healthcare than the UK does now. We currently have one of the lowest level of charges.
"In my view you cannot go down to such sustained low levels of public spending - the lowest for 70 years - and expect the NHS to remain recognisable. These are the largest cuts over four years since the Second World War."
He added: "Ten years ago in the 2005 Conservative manifesto written by David Cameron, the Tories set out plans for a patient passport that introduced charges for people that wanted to jump the queue, so Cameron and Osborne have got form on introducing charges for basic medical treatments."