Ed Miliband said Watford General Hospital is ‘really, desperately in need of modernisation’ during a party political broadcast to the nation last night.
The Labour leader praised the good work of its staff, but said there was ‘a sense of deep anxiety’ among them.
Watford General has been the main hospital for most of Dacorum since Hemel Hempstead Hospital’s A&E closed in 2009, while Labour was in power.
Speaking about Watford General, Mr Miliband said: “This hospital is really, desperately in need of modernisation.
“There was a plan under the last Labour government – it was got rid of by this government – to modernise the hospital.
“It is really interesting going to the maternity ward, because there is one bit that’s new – the birthing centre.
“And there’s quite a lot of it – the old bit – that’s got peeling paint.
“And you know if you are giving birth, it really matters whether the facilities are good enough or not good enough.”
Mr Miliband was filmed alongside doctors, nurses and chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust Samantha Jones, who also oversees the operation of Hemel Hempstead Hospital.
Mr Miliband said: “There is a sense of deep anxiety. The head nurse in A&E said to me on the first day I was there: ‘People can’t get to see their GP for a week or two weeks, and they end up in A&E.’
“There are just too many people ending up in A&E, because the services elsewhere just aren’t there. As a basic thing, everyone has the right to expect they can see a GP within 48 hours – and that is a promise a Labour government will deliver.”
He said the NHS is facing new pressures from the growing elderly population and new medical technologies, which is making life harder, not easier.
But he said his experience at Watford General made him ‘impatient’ to become Prime Minister, so he can improve the NHS.
He said: “There is a reason why people in this country love the NHS – because of the values, the people who work in it and the job they do.
“I don’t think politicians can get the right solutions to the health service without seeing exactly what is really going on.
“So I spent two days going around different parts of the hospital. It wasn’t about putting things on show. It was seeing through the eyes of the nurses, the doctors, the patients, and to try and learn from them.
“Too often politicians come along and say: ‘We are going to propose this big change to the health service.’ It looks good on paper and in Whitehall and in Westminster, then in practice it causes chaos.
“How can you run the health service just from the top-down without drawing on that incredible expertise of the people who are doing the work?
“You have got to start from the grassroots, and that’s why I did it.”
He described the next five years as ‘a crunch moment for the NHS’.
He said: “I dread to think what another five years of the Tories would mean for the National Health Service.”
He accused Tory Prime Minister David Cameron of breaking his promises to protect the NHS before the last election. He said the NHS and the social services should work more closely together.
He said: “We have got to put the right principles back at the heart of the NHS: care and cooperation and compassion, not privatisation and competition.”