Labour's Wes Streeting vows to reform 'complacent' NHS as he warns spending risks becoming 'unsustainable'

17 December 2023, 08:47 | Updated: 17 December 2023, 13:20

Wes Streeting has vowed to reform the NHS
Wes Streeting has vowed to reform the NHS. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Labour's Wes Streeting has said he would reform the NHS if his party got into power, as he warned that the health service could cease to exist without change.

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The Shadow Health Secretary told LBC's Matthew Wright that the NHS suffers from "complacency" and said that day-to-day government spending on health risked reaching "unsustainable" levels.

Mr Streeting, who has recently been on a tour of other countries' health services, said that his "anxiety" was the widespread idea that "the NHS just needs more money".

He said there were "two challenges" to that theory.

"One is that the Conservatives have crashed the public finances, so that I can’t promise that if we come in there will be loads more cash to splash around.

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Wes Streeting tells Matthew Wright what Labour plans with to do to help the NHS

"Secondly NHS spending as a proportion of day-to-day government spending is now over 40% - about 42%. I don’t think that percentage can go much higher without the NHS looking unsustainable."

Mr Streeting said that the government has to "get a grip" on NHS costs, adding that the health service must "reform to make sure that every penny that goes in is money well spent."

He said: "We all see it and certainly staff tell me their frustrations at some of the waste that they see in the NHS through no fault of their own.

"Patients can see it too - how many of us have received the letter for the appointment after the appointment has taken place?"

The challenges facing the UK's healthcare system are similar to those in other rich countries.

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting in an ambulance, during a visit to the London Ambulance Station in Waterloo this week
Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting in an ambulance, during a visit to the London Ambulance Station in Waterloo this week. Picture: Alamy

Mr Streeting said that the UK and other developed economies are "dealing with the triple whammy of an aging society, rising chronic disease and rising cost pressures. He said that these "threaten to not just overwhelm the NHS but to bankrupt it."

The Ilford North MP said that he still believed in the fundamental NHS principle of being free at the point of use and publicly funded.

"But we do need to look hard at where the money goes," he said, citing a shortage of relatively cheap GP appointments, which then mean people go to A&E, which costs the taxpayer about ten times more.

He said that, among other reforms, Labour would look to help the NHS with "shifting the balance out of the hospital and into the community, better primary care, community services, that would actually get better outcomes for patients and better value for taxpayers’ money."

Wes Streeting speaks to Matthew Wright

The NHS waiting list for appointments stood at 7.71 million in October, the latest figures available - a drop of 65,000. This was the largest drop since 2011, apart from a three-month period at the start of the pandemic. Some fear that the drop is partially caused by people dying while waiting for treatment.

Mr Streeting said the state of the health service is "grim".

He said: "The NHS is going through the worst crisis in its history, and the argument that I’ve been making very strongly is that unless the NHS reforms, unless it modernises and changes to adapt with the times, it is not going to be there for us for the next 75 years as it was for the last."

Although he admitted being critical of the NHS itself, he said that the problem with the NHS is "fundamentally the politics".

"It’s not a shortage of good ideas we have in this country, it’s a shortage of good politics," he said.

Mr Streeting said last week that the NHS uses winter crises to "as an excuse to ask for more money".

He told the Sunday Times: “I think people working in the NHS and the patients using the NHS can see examples of waste and inefficiency.

"I don’t think it’s good enough that the NHS uses every winter crisis and every challenge it faces as an excuse to ask for more money.

“The NHS is going to have to get used to the fact that money is tight and it’s going to have to get used to switching spend, and rethinking where and how care is delivered to deliver better outcomes for patients and better value for taxpayers’ money.

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