Keir Starmer pledges Labour government will bring down suicide rates and NHS waiting times

22 May 2023, 00:52 | Updated: 22 May 2023, 12:01

Keir Starmer will pledge that a Labour government will get the health service "back on its feet" and bring NHS waiting times back down to safe levels, in a speech on Monday.
Keir Starmer has pledged that a Labour government will get the health service "back on its feet" and bring NHS waiting times back down to safe levels, in a speech on Monday. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Samuel

Keir Starmer has pledged that a Labour government will get the health service "back on its feet" and bring NHS waiting times back down to safe levels.

The Labour leader also promised to tackle the "biggest killers", including, heart disease, strokes, cancer and suicide.

Sir Keir said his party will reverse the rising number of death from suicide, so they are declining within five years, with deaths from heart disease and stroke reduced by a quarter within a decade.

He pointed to figures from coroners showing that suicide deaths have been increasing since 2008, reaching a record high in England and Wales last year.

He also committed to meeting all cancer targets so that patients are seen on time and diagnosed early.

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“Suicide is the biggest killer of young lives in this country. The biggest killer. That statistic should haunt us. And the rate is going up. Our mission must be and will be: to get it down,” he will said.

“The next Labour government will deliver an NHS that is there when you need it. No backsliding, no excuses. We will meet these standards again. We will get the NHS back on its feet.

Mr Starmer will pledge that Labour will reverse the rising number of deaths from suicide
Mr Starmer will pledge that Labour will reverse the rising number of deaths from suicide. Picture: Alamy

“We have a plan. We will fight for the NHS. We will fix the NHS. We will reform the NHS. Old values, new opportunities. Technology and science, convenience and control, renewal not decline. An NHS, not just off its knees but running confidently towards the future.”

But Labour did not make clear how the pledges would be funded, but Starmer said it is based on “a mission that can lift the anxiety, the pain, the fear faced by millions of families across the country and replace it with hope of a renewed NHS”.

During an appearance on Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Labour's shadow health minister Liz Kendall said the party was not looking to raise taxes, but pressed on the issue, she added: “Whilst extra investment is essential, what I would argue here is reform is absolutely part of it too.”

Campaigners cautiously welcomed the commitment to tackle suicide, but said the focus should be on tackling the wider causes of mental illness in society, including inequality and poverty.

File photo of staff on a NHS hospital ward, October 3, 2014
File photo of staff on a NHS hospital ward, October 3, 2014. Picture: Alamy

Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Guardian: “The focus on preventing mental illness is the right approach.

"Mental illness can in many cases be prevented with early intervention and by tackling root causes including inequality, racism and abuse.

“A long-term whole of government plan to improve outcomes for people with mental illness is urgently needed.

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"Adults with severe mental illness are almost five times more likely to die prematurely than the rest of the population with two out of three deaths from preventable illnesses.”

The Times reported that in a bid to cut waiting times, Rishi Sunak is preparing to unveil plans to let patients opt to be treated in private hospitals using the NHS app within a year.

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