Miliband urges on nurses against NHS reforms

Ed Miliband has praised nurses as the "first line in the defence of the NHS" as he encouraged them to continue resisting the coalition's reforms.

The Labour leader addressed the Royal College of Nursing's annual congress in Harrogate this morning one day after health secretary Andrew Lansley faced hostile heckling from delegates.

Mr Miliband attacked David Cameron and Mr Lansley for "acting like masters" rather than "servants" of the health service and accused ministers of imposing a top-down reorganisation on the NHS.

The health secretary told nurses yesterday that he was committed to "clinical leadership", but appeared to reject their warnings that the quality of patient care was suffering as a result of NHS cuts.

"Our health service is owned by patients, professionals and the people," he said.

"And their voice – your voice – deserves to be heard. I can't promise that we will always agree about everything. But what I will never do is what this government did: dismiss you as just a 'vested interest'. You are not. You are the defenders of the health service."

Labour wants health and wellbeing boards to adopt principles including resisting the creep of charges for treatment and promising to promote collaboration over competition as the battle against the 'privatisation' of the NHS – a trend denied by Mr Lansley yesterday – continues.

"You tried to engage with the government. You expressed the concerns that nurses were expressing to you. You warned the government of the risks it was running," Mr Miliband added.

"Resources being diverted away from the frontline, patients waiting longer for treatment, disruption and fragmentation. But the government refused to listen. It ploughed on regardless."

The opposition is also launching a new service called NHS Check which will allow concerned healthcare professionals to communicate with the Labour party directly.

"You are not just on the frontline in our NHS," Mr Miliband continued.

"You are the first line in the defence of our NHS."