It has emerged that in a 2005 book co-authored by Hunt, Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party, a passage reads, “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham sent a letter to Hunt this week quoting the passage, as well as others that seemed to suggest the Tory favoured the US insurance model for healthcare.

“Instead of tinkering with a fundamentally broken machine, it (the Conservative Party) should offer to update the model,” it read.

“We should fund patients, either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice.”

Burnham said of Hunt: “Never has an incoming secretary of state made such overt statements about replacing the NHS with an insurance system.

“His obvious lack of belief in what the NHS stands for will be a huge worry to patients and staff. They have a right to know whether he stands by his earlier remarks.”

Hunt earned the surprise promotion from Culture Secretary to Health Secretary this week courtesy of David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle.

Hunt has also come under fire for endorsing homeopathy in 2007, when he signed a Commons early day motion supporting it. Many leading scientists have argued that homeopathy has little value and is a waste of NHS funds.

It has also emerged that Hunt voted for the time limit on abortion to be reduced from 24 to 12 weeks in 2008.

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