Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has accused the government of implementing “a secret plan to privatise the NHS” in England.

In a speech on the campaign trail at the University of Salford, Smith noted that NHS spending on private services has doubled to £8.7bn under Conservative-led governments of the last six years.

He said:

“The NHS is our country’s most valued institution… We all rightly contribute to the NHS through our taxes, but we must make sure that money is spent on doctors and nurses, and not lining the pockets of private sector shareholders.”

Smith is hoping that his defence of the National Health Service will bring him support in a period when junior doctors are striking over pay and A&E targets are increasingly being missed under government cuts and plans for reorganisation.

Jeremy Corbyn has opposed Tory changes to the NHS, but Smith wants to show that the current labour leader has been ineffectual as leader of the opposition even when trying to protect one of the UK’s most popular public services.

Elsewhere, in response to Theresa May lifting the ban on new grammar schools, Corbyn announced that he wants a “National Education Service” based on NHS principles, with free education for all “from cradle to grave”.

There are just over five weeks left until the Labour leadership election, where Labour members will decide whether the future of the party lies under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith.

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