LABOUR'S Shadow Health Secretary told supporters in the North-East on Thursday night that he would put "the N back into the NHS."

Speaking at a public meeting in Redcar organised by Labour Party candidate, Anna Turley, Andy Burnham, MP, strongly criticised the Coalition Government for "fragmenting" the NHS at the worst possible time.

He said the Coalition had "no democratic mandate" for the massive reorganisation which was costing 3bn and diverting much-needed resources away from the front line.

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Mr Burnham told the packed meeting that he was very concerned at reports of long queues of ambulances outside James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and delays in admitting patients at A&E units across the North-East.

He said he would fight the Government's attempts to open up the NHS to market forces and - if he was in power - would restore the NHS as a truly national and collaborative health service.

Mr Burnham warned that the controversial new structure of the NHS which comes into effect in April would lead to fragmentation and a postcode lottery of services.

He said he is now working on a new policy which would try to bring health care, mental health care and social care into a single service.

Such a service could more adequately deal with the growing problem of an ageing Britain, he said.

Mr Burnham argued that more resources should be allocated to supporting the very elderly at home.

But he warned that this would probably mean that hospitals would have to shrink.

Mr Burnham said he could not promise to increase NHS spending but he argued that bringing the three services together could result in major economies and a better service.

"Statistics show that a quarter of beds in acute hospitals are occupied by older people who shouldnt be there but they cant be discharged because theres no provision for them at home."

An unnamed nurse told Mr Burnham that the main problem facing the nursing profession was the lack of staffing on wards.

The nurse, who did not give the name of the hospital involved, told Mr Burnham: "I now work in general practice but my ex-colleauges have told me they are halving the staff on an elderly care ward. To me that is ridiculous."

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