Starmer backs Streeting’s comments on NHS reform amid criticism from the BMA

Katie Neame
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Keir Starmer has argued that the pay rise being demanded by nurses is “probably more than can be afforded” in a deviation from the party line that it is for the unions and the government to negotiate a settlement. Just yesterday, Wes Streeting told the BBC that Labour would “certainly be prepared to talk about pay” but that he was not going to “pluck a figure out of thin air”. Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy had previously suggested that the opposition sees inflation-level pay rises for the public sector as “unaffordable” because of the Tories’ mismanagement of the economy. Starmer’s words this morning, in contrast, were a more explicit acknowledgement that Labour agrees with the government that nurses’ requests for a pay rise of 5% above inflation cannot be met.

Streeting remains under fire for comments he made about the British Medical Association (BMA) over the weekend. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the Shadow Health Secretary criticised the doctors’ union for being “hostile” towards Labour’s plans for the health service. Streeting stressed that the party’s plans for investment in the NHS workforce would have to be accompanied by improved standards for patients. He told the paper: “Whenever I point out the appalling state of access to primary care, where currently a record two million people are waiting more than a month to see a GP, I am treated like some sort of heretic by the BMA – who seem to think any criticism of patient access to primary care is somehow an attack on GPs.” He spoke of a “something-for-nothing culture in the NHS” and said a vote by GPs in England to cut surgeries’ core opening hours to 9am to 5pm made doctors “look like they’re living on a different planet” and “aren’t really thinking about the best interests of patients”.

Streeting doubled down on his comments on Sunday. He told the BBC that the BMA has “driven [him] up the wall”, adding somewhat defensively: “I announced the biggest expansion of the NHS staff in history… and all I said was that, alongside that investment in staff, we’ve got to have better service for patients.” Starmer backed Streeting this morning, telling LBC listeners: “We’ve got to reform the NHS going forward.” The Labour leader agreed with Streeting on the GPs’ vote on working hours and spoke of the need for the NHS to take a “can-do attitude” to reform.

Speaking last month, following the announcement of two days of industrial action by nurses, Starmer said the strikes were a “badge of shame” for the Tory government, adding: “The difference between what Labour would do and what this government is doing could not be starker.” But with the Labour leader echoing government lines on nurses’ pay and the Shadow Health Secretary publicly clashing with one of the health sector unions, the opposition’s positioning in this area is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from that of the government.

Four more Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) met over the weekend to select their next candidates. Members in Lincoln opted for diplomat and son of Lord Falconer, Hamish Falconer, while local councillor Paul Davies was selected in Colne Valley. Worcester CLP chose former councillor Tom Collins and members in Monmouth picked Catherine Fookes, who is a local councillor and chair of the Welsh Fabians. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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