Concerns have been raised over proposed legislation that could give GPs the power to charge patients for services.
The issue was raised by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who also said the government's controversial health reforms could mean the NHS is subject to European Union (EU) and UK competition law, which could see hospitals fined up to 10% of their income.
"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 at a press conference at Labour Party headquarters in London.
Under the laws, the health secretary would no longer be responsible for deciding what services the NHS should provide, with this instead transferred to GPs.
Mr Miliband said: "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. 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 also added 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.
Copyright © Press Association 2011
We asked if you think patients should be charged for services. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"GPs provide a very lucrative pay as you go system and some would welcome a system where they could extract even more money from the public" - Marie, Lancs
"No no no. This would be grossly unfair and probably only a small % of patients actually paying as do the prescription charges at present" - Chris Hall, Newcastle
"No. We already pay all our working lives" - Barbara Wells, Dover
"Many GPs currently also offer private care; I expect that to be charged. At present GPs are usually penny pinching in a way that the rest of the NHS is not. Normally, patients are asked to provide an SAE as they wont pay the stamp for results. Housing letters, insurance, short-term sick certs required by employers are often also charged. Holiday vacs vary, also even hep B for low paid care assistants in learning disability state schools who do not provide. Yes, GPs will charge patients if it is not funded long-term community nurse" - Una Duffy, London
"Absolutely not. The NHS delivers care 'free at the point of service'. It is NOT free - we all pay through our taxes and NI so have already been charged. This bill is a back door way of privatising the health service and I believe is ideologically driven by a Tory government" - Laura Robertson, London
"Before any thought of charging happens I think the services offered by GPs should be investigated and better training and checking implemented as I am amazed at how he service has deteriorated over the past few years. I wouldn't dream of paying for the service provided now (I am only talking about GP service, not other NHS services)" - Sally Anne Medd, Wilton
"Absolutely not. There is already a massive class divide which is getting wider as this government continues to deliver its regular unfair legislation. Making patients pay for service would only serve to ensure the rich continued to dominate the poor" - Louise Lewis, Bradford
"Only if they want to go private, as Nye Bevan set out to produce a free service for all. We don't want to go back to the poor being unable to pay and the rich getting better services. Surely the mortality rate would increase and the state will have a divide between the rich and the poor. Isn't this what Nye Bevan aimed to overcome with the phrase 'free for all?'" - Karen Brewerton, Coventry
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