Sunday shows: Streeting defends plan to use private sector to address NHS crisis

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting defended his plan to use the private sector to bring down NHS waiting times and accused the government of being “quite happy to see paramedics and nurses go on strike” to shift the blame for a winter crisis.

  • Asked what Labour would do to fix the NHS: “At the centre of Labour’s plans to make the NHS fit for the future is the biggest expansion of the NHS workforce in history… and we would pay for it by abolishing the non-dom tax status.”
  • On abolishing non-dom status: “It would generate more than £3bn. That’s more than enough to cover the £1.6bn that our package would cost… Why is it that when it comes to taxing the wealthy, it’s always far too difficult? But when it comes to picking the pockets of working people with punitive tax rises, that’s seems to be the Conservatives first resort?”
  • On claims Labour is targeting Rishi Sunak’s family: “We haven’t taken this policy to single out the Prime Minister and his family, actually, but there is a case in point in 10 Downing Street of someone who was a non-dom, now pays their taxes here and hasn’t left the country.”
  • He told the government: “You’re welcome to nick Labour’s workforce plan… And in the meantime, there are things the government can and should be doing right now to alleviate the crisis in the NHS this winter whether that’s using spare beds in the private sector… whether it’s dealing with the pension issues that see doctors leaving the NHS early.”
  • He added: “Or whether it’s actually just pulling their finger out… like the half a billion pounds to deal with the late discharge in social care – do know not a penny of that money has hit the frontline yet. Why? Because of all the chaos we saw over the summer… The Conservatives’ incompetence and chaos is costing the country dear.”
  • On his plans to use the private sector to bring down NHS waiting times: “The last Labour government successfully used the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists… by the end of that government, use of the private sector had fallen dramatically because the NHS was so good.”
  • He added: “It’s outrageous we’ve got a two-tier health care system in this country today, where those who can pay to go private do and those who can’t afford to go private are left behind… It’s the right thing to do to create a level playing field.”
  • On his relationship with the BMA: “I’m always willing to engage with the BMA… But what I am not prepared to do is just accept lower standards for patients because people think that’s it’s unachievable to expect that people should be able to book a GP appointment online or see the doctor they want to face-to-face.”
  • On strikes: “The RCN and UNISON have said just last night that if the government is prepared to sit down and talk about pay and all of the other issues, they will suspend strike action this week… That is an offer that is too good to refuse and I want the government to explain why they’re not prepared to sit down.”
  • On the government: “The government’s line is a complete joke on that, there hasn’t been a single minute of negotiation… It is completely unreasonable for the government not to want to negotiate and I think they are spoiling [for] a fight.”
  • He added: “They’re quite happy to see paramedics and nurses go on strike because when the proverbial hits the fan this winter, they are going to blame nurses and paramedics for an NHS crisis which is squarely the fault of a Conservative government.”
  • Asked whether Labour would scrap the NHS pay review body: “No, I’d be willing to amend… It’s important that we have independent pay review bodies and I think the unions have raised some legitimate concerns about how they work. I’d be willing to look at that.”
  • He urged the government: “Get around the table with the unions, you can avert strike action. The unions are being entirely reasonable on this. Negotiate today, avert strike action.”
  • On Labour’s policies: “I know it’s frustrating for people who want us to go further, faster… but the Conservatives have crashed the economy, the public finances are in a real mess and I want to make sure… that when go into the election, the public can have confidence that we can keep the promises that we make.”
  • On Unite: “The current general secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham deserves enormous credit for being willing to open the books and go through them, call in the investigators, to make sure her members’ subs are properly used.”
  • On trade union funding for the party: “The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions to stand up for the interests of working people. That, throughout our history, has been a strength.”

On reports that the Health Secretary is refusing to meet with the RCN and UNISON, James Cleverly said “he said he’s willing to meet them” and told viewers that “meetings are different to pay negotiations”. He claimed that the NHS pay review body is there to “take the politics out of this stuff”.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting claimed that he had been treated as a “heretic” by the British Medical Association (BMA) over his comments about NHS reform, declaring that the union has “driven [him] up the wall.”

  • On healthcare workers going on strike: “We’ve had this 11th-hour intervention from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and UNISON saying if the government agrees to talk, to negotiate, there’ll be no strikes this week… I cannot understand why James Cleverly just sat in this chair a moment ago refusing that reasonable offer but perhaps worse still, pretending that government doesn’t have a role to play.”
  • Asked whether Labour would pay nurses more: “We’d certainly be prepared to talk about pay, terms and conditions and the way that the whole pay review body process works.”
  • Pressed on whether Labour would give nurses more money: “We’d be willing to talk, but what I’m not going to do, Laura, at this stage is create a hostage to fortune for a Labour government… The worse thing I could possibly do this morning is make promises we can’t keep.”
  • Pressed again on nurses’ pay: “I said I’d be willing to negotiate, and I think that’s reasonable. But what I’m not going to do, Laura, is pluck a figure out of thin air… We’d be willing to talk about it and I think that’s what the government should do as well.”
  • Pressed again on paying nurses more: “Of course we want to invest more in our public services. Of course we want people to be paid more. The best thing that we can do to make sure we’re able to do that is to get inflation under control, to get growth back in the economy.”
  • On his comments about the BMA: “The BMA have driven me up the wall and I’ll tell you why. Because 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… I appreciate the pressure that GPs are under. I’m not bashing GPs. But when I say I’m going to invest in the workforce, I don’t expect the BMA to come out and treat me like some sort of heretic.”
  • On reforming the NHS: “Against the backdrop where we spend a significant proportion of our GDP and public spending in the NHS, we’ve got to ask questions about how that money is spent… If we had more of that resource in primary care, community services, mental health, social care, we can deliver better outcomes for patients and better value for the taxpayer.”
  • On plans to make use of the private sector: “I’m talking about dealing with the fact that there are empty beds available in the private sector… I would rather, as a short-term measure, use the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists faster.”
  • Pressed on the implications of using the private sector: “Our job is to get patients seen as fast as possible, and helping to alleviate some of that pressure on the NHS will help us to make the changes we need to make the NHS fit for the future.”

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said Health Secretary Steve Barclay can “choose negotiation over picket lines”, adding: “My door is open.” The union leader told viewers: “The NHS has been in crisis for many, many years. That hasn’t been caused by nurses.” She also noted how UK nurses’ pay compares poorly to the rest of Europe, which she described “despicable”.

On the government’s role in negotiations with the RCN, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said salary negotiations “are done between union leaders on behalf of their members and their employer”, adding that nurses are employed by the NHS.

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