Following Sir Keir Starmer’s speech on Labour’s plans for the NHS, we examine the pledges made for the health and social care sector.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled a comprehensive plan to reform the NHS in England, with a focus on cutting heart disease, cancer, and suicide deaths. In a speech delivered at an ambulance station in Essex, Sir Keir emphasised that tackling these three major causes of mortality would be central to Labour’s mission for the NHS.
Sir Keir accused the government of bringing the NHS “to its knees” and expressed doubts about its ability to sustain the health service for another five years. Looking ahead to the upcoming general election, Labour’s leader stated that the future of the NHS was “on the line.”
As part of Labour’s vision to build an NHS fit for the future, the party has set ambitious targets to reduce deaths from cancer and suicide within five years, and to decrease heart disease fatalities by 25% over the next decade. To achieve these goals, Labour’s proposed reforms would focus on expanding community care, increasing the number of health workers through training programs, and enabling GP bookings through the NHS app.
Labour’s plan to reduce waiting times and implement their broader reforms hinges on two critical factors: staffing and funding. NHS Confederation has identified a funding gap of £6-7 billion for the health service in England in the next fiscal year. Sir Keir indicated that Labour would finance the recruitment of additional health workers by ending certain tax breaks, including the non-dom status. He stressed that while funding was important, change and reform were equally crucial.
Three key shifts for the NHS
In his speech, Sir Keir outlined three key shifts in approach for the NHS: promoting digital methods, emphasising community care, and prioritising preventive measures. He highlighted the underutilised potential of digital healthcare, citing the 33 million downloads of the NHS app during the Covid-19 pandemic. Labour plans to transform the app into a comprehensive platform for GP appointment bookings, prescription orders, age-related check-up alerts, and access to patient records.
To alleviate pressure on hospitals and enhance patient care, Labour intends to expand the NHS workforce. Their proposal includes training 700 additional nurses annually, recruiting 5,000 more health visitors, and increasing the number of mental health staff. Sir Keir’s speech echoed the party’s commitment to providing people with greater choice in selecting their hospital treatment.
Labour’s emphasis on suicide prevention comes in response to alarming statistics. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), over 5,500 deaths were registered as suicides in England and Wales in 2021, with a significant increase observed among women under the age of 24. Sir Keir acknowledged the haunting nature of these figures and pledged to make reducing suicide rates among young people a top priority.
In addition to targeting heart disease and cancer, Labour also aims to meet existing NHS targets, such as ensuring that 85% of cancer patients start treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. This target has not been met since 2015. Sir Keir committed his party to achieving these goals within the first term of a Labour government.
The Government’s response
While proposals to address waiting times, enhance community care, and leverage technology have been raised by multiple parties over the past decade, Labour’s comprehensive plan sets it apart. The Conservative government’s Health Minister, Will Quince, criticised Labour’s proposals, citing the failure to meet similar targets in Wales, where Labour has governed for the past 25 years. However, Sir Keir dismissed such claims and reiterated his determination to deliver on Labour’s commitments.
With the NHS facing significant challenges, Sir Keir Starmer’s announcement of Labour’s reform plan signals the party’s ambition to prioritise healthcare and address the pressing issues of heart disease, cancer, and suicide. As the general election approaches, the future of the NHS hangs in the balance as both parties will look to make health and social care a priority in their campaigns.
With economic growth stagnating and inflation at record levels, the restrictions on funds and investment will be a key question poised to Sir Keir following the fallout of today’s annoucement.
NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission
Establishing integration within health and social care, improving economic output in life sciences and tackling health inequalities is the key mission of Curia‘s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission.
For further information about the Commission’s work, including the exciting dementia programme, see here.