CAMPAIGNERS have backed Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith who claims the Tories have a “secret plan to privatise the NHS”.

Southend Keep Our NHS Public spoke out after Mr Smith said £8.7 billion was spent on buying healthcare from the private sector in 2015/16 .

This was equal to 7.6 per cent of total spending and more than double the amount when the Tories took power in 2010.

Mr Smith has accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of “covering up” the scale of NHS spending on the private sector.

It came after 2014/15 figures were revised up from initial estimates by more than a £1billion

Campaigner Norman Traub, from Southend Keep Our NHS Public, criticised spending on the private sector.

He said: “There is no question that the Tories are privatising the NHS and the figure Mr Smith cites of £8.7billion spent by the health service on the private sector is true - no question.

“It is not only privatisation. They are cutting the budget so the NHS can’t keep up new drugs and equipment that appear on the market.”

Despite Mr Smith’s bid to preserve the NHS, Mr Traub said he backed Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race as his credentials for protecting the NHS were without question.

He said: “Mr Corbyn says quite categorically the need to end privatisation of the the NHS is one of the things Labour exists for.”

Labour councillor for St Martin’s at Basildon Council, Dave Burton-Smith, said he was concerned the growing privatisation of the NHS could led to a system similar to the one in America.

“What is very, very clear is that since the Tories have been back in power the NHS has been going backwards,” he added.

“You can tell this by the service cuts and waiting times and so on and so forth.

“The work Labour has done to improve the NHS when it was in power has been undone by the Tories.

“Our NHS should be something that we are proud of. It is a great British institution that many people feel concerned about.

“What we don’t want to see is a model like in America where there is a model of health insurance.

“I personally haven’t heard Owen Smith’s comments, but if his comments are correct - which they usually are - it would be very worrying for the health service.”

Basildon NHS campaigner Cherokee Roberts added that she thought the privatisation was “disgraceful”.

“We used to have an NHS that was the envy of the world,” she added.

“But it has just been cut backs and cut backs.

“They are paving the way for privatisation.”