‘Cutting NHS waiting lists is our priority’: Starmer unveils ‘first steps’ for Government if elected into Downing Street

28 May 2024, 23:50 | Updated: 29 May 2024, 00:36

Keir Starmer has pledged to cut NHS waiting lists
Keir Starmer has pledged to cut NHS waiting lists. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Cutting NHS waiting lists will be "the first step" in his Labour government's plan to get the health service "back on its feet", Sir Keir Starmer has pledged.

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Sir Keir has vowed to create an NHS that is "there for everyone" as he plans a visit to the West Midlands on Wednesday.

The Labour has said his government, if elected, would primarily focus on reducing treatment backlogs, which currently stand at 7.54 million.

The party has warned the backlog could soar above 10 million if the Conservatives are elected into office again.

Sir Keir said one of his government's first steps would be to create an additional 40,000 appointments, scans and operations each week during evenings and weekends.

Labour has also vowed to double the numbers of scanners in a bid to diagnose patients earlier.

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Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to slash NHS waiting lists
Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to slash NHS waiting lists. Picture: Getty

The Labour leader also pledged to send "crack teams" who are already running out-of-hours programmes into hospitals to help set up evening and weekend clinics in the rest of the health service.

Sir Keir said: "Putting the NHS back in its feet and making fit for the future is personal for me.

"It runs through my family like a stick of rock, which is why one of my five missions is to turn it around after 14 years of Conservative decline.

"The first step of my Labour government will be to cut NHS waiting lists, clearing the Tory backlog."

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The plans for additional appointments and scanners will cost about £1.3 billion, according to Labour.

The party said it will fund them by clamping down on tax dodgers and tightening up the rules on non-domiciled people.

Elsewhere, Labour vowed to utilise spare capacity in the private sector, which will be free of charge to NHS patients, as well as reforming the health service and expanding the workforce.

Sir Keir added: "We will roll up our sleeves to work with NHS staff, not against them. We will stop the anxiety of wondering if an ambulance will come on time. We will bring back the family doctor.

"The NHS has been there for my family when we needed it. I'll make sure it's there for everyone."

The Labour leader said he was inspired by Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, where staff had high-intensity theatre lists on weekends up and running within six weeks.

He said: "It was NHS staff working in the hospital I can see from my office in Parliament who led the way on this new model.

"Labour will take the best of the NHS to the rest of the NHS, so patients in every part of the country can be treated on time."

Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital
Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital. Picture: Alamy

Earlier this month, figures from NHS England revealed the size of the waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England was unchanged in March, following five consecutive monthly falls.

An estimated 7.54 million treatments were waiting to be carried out at the end of March, relating to 6.29 million patients, the same numbers as in February.

However, some 309,300 patients had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment, up from 305,050. The number of people waiting more than 65 weeks to start treatment fell from 75,004 to 48,968.

The Government and NHS England had pledged to eliminate all waits of more than a year by March 2025, while the target to eliminate all waits of more than 65 weeks has been moved to September 2024, having previously been March 2024.

The party highlighted that Tony Blair's Labour government cut maximum waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks.

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Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "Over 14 years the Conservatives have taken the golden inheritance left by the last Labour government and wrecked it.

"Their neglect, incompetence and underinvestment in the NHS has left millions of people waiting in pain and agony."

He accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of having "given up on the NHS" with "no plan to turn this crisis around. "Patients deserve solutions not scapegoats," Mr Streeting added.

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However, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins described the plans as "more 'copy and paste' politics from Labour, who have no plan".

"Last week we exposed Labour's 'no new hospitals' pledge, in which they have said they will delay the Government's building programme for new hospitals," she added.

Ms Atkins said the health service "has faced unprecedented challenges which it can only overcome if supported by a strong economy".

She insisted the Conservatives "have a clear plan and will take bold action to strengthen the economy and continue to deliver the technology and innovation the NHS needs to keep cutting waiting lists".