Ed Miliband walks with Doctor Tom Coffey at The Brocklehurst Medical Centre in Wandsworth on May 16, 2011 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband puts NHS centre stage with new GP guarantee

Labour leader pledges that all patients will win the right to an appointment within 48 hours. 

Labour laid the ground for Ed Miliband's NHS speech over the weekend by highlighting new figures showing that patients waited more than a week to see their GP on almost 50 million occasions last year. In his address in Manchester this evening, Miliband will offer his antidote.  

He will unveil a "GP guarantee", promising that Labour will give all patients the right to an appointment within 48 hours if they want one - and on the same day if they need one. Under the coalition, the proportion seeing a GP within 48 hours has fallen from 80 per cent to just 40 per cent.

Labour plans to invest an extra £100m a year in family doctor practices, enough to pay for an additional three million GP appointments. One of the central aims of the policy is to reduce the burden on A&E and the number of avoidable hospital admissions. Labour cites studies showing that a 5 per cent increase in patients seeing their preferred GP could reduce emergency admissions by as much as 159,000 a year – saving the NHS £375m. The ambition, as a Labour spokesman told me, is to both "improve the health service and save money". 

Labour plans to pay for the new investment by scrapping government rules which have led to unnecessary administration and legal fees (costing at least £78m) because NHS services are now under threat from EU competition law; and by cutting spending by the three main health quangos: Monitor, the Trust Development Authority and Commissioning Support Units. 

The speech will be followed by an election broadcast tomorow night featuring Miliband volunteering at a hospital.

Miliband will say this evening: 

In the year leading up to the next General Election and beginning in this local and European campaign the National Health Service needs to be on the centre stage of British politics. People remember the promises David Cameron made at the last election: the airbrushed posters and the three letters he said he cared about most: NHS. But we all know the reality now: the broken promises.

David Cameron said there would be moratorium on hospital closures.But he has taken on sweeping new powers to close services over the heads of local people. He said there would be no return to people waiting for hours in A&E. But last year more people waited for over four hours in A&E than for any time for a decade. He promised to protect frontline services. But a quarter of walk-in centres have been closed since 2010.

He promised that people should be able to see their GP '24/7' But a quarter of the public now say they can’t get an appointment in the same week. It’s a scandal that people are waiting that long, it is not how our NHS, the pride of Britain, should work.

And he promised there would be no more top down reorganisations.But he spent billions of pounds on a top-down reorganization that nobody wanted and nobody voted for which has put the principles of markets and competition at the heart of the NHS like never before: Aboost for the private companies and competition lawyers; a burden for everyone else.

Competition, fragmentation, and privatisation - that’s how the Tories see the future of our NHS and that’s why it is going backwards. David Cameron has broken his bond of trust with the British people on the NHS. He has proved the oldest truth in British politics: you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.

"You can't trust the Tories with the NHS" may be a familiar Labour refrain, but it is no less effective for being so. Even after a concerted Conservative attempt to pin the blame for the Mid-Staffs scandal on the last government, the opposition continues to enjoy a 12-point lead on health. There is every reason for Labour to "bang on" about the NHS. 

But while Miliband can reasonably point to savings that would be achieved by cutting bureaucracy, integrating health and social care, and devolving services, this will not be enough to plug te long-term funding gap. 

At present, despite the common view that it has been shielded from austerity, the NHS is experiencing the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4%, but over the current Spending Review it will rise by an average of just 0.5%. As a result, in the words of a recent Social Market Foundation paper, there has been "an effective cut of £16bn from the health budget in terms of what patients expect the NHS to deliver". Should the NHS receive flat real settlements for the three years from 2015-16 (as seems probable), this cut will increase to £34bn or 23%.

If they wish to avoid a significant fall in the quality of the health service, this government and future ones are left with three choices: to raise taxes (my preference), to cut spending elsewhere, or to impose patient charges. With this in mind, Labour figures have begun the tough work of considering which taxes, most obviously National Insurance, they could raise in order to sustain a free, universal NHS. But that remains a battle for another day. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.