Labour’s plans to reform the NHS continue to attract criticism

Katie Neame
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Wes Streeting poked fun at Rishi Sunak over the Prime Minister’s use of private healthcare yesterday. Asked why Sunak has rejected the idea that the NHS is “in crisis”, the Shadow Health Secretary told attendees at the Jewish Labour Movement’s conference: “I don’t think he uses the NHS, so that’s why he hasn’t noticed.” The Guardian revealed in November that the Prime Minister is registered with a private GP practice. Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Sunak repeatedly refused to admit whether he uses private healthcare, arguing that it is “not really relevant” and that his healthcare is a “personal choice”.

But Labour’s own stance on private healthcare has also attracted criticism. Keir Starmer told Sky News over the weekend that there would be more use of the private sector under a Labour government, though he was quick to add: “Let me be clear, we are not talking about privatising the NHS.” The Labour leader said his party is instead focused on using the private sector “effectively”, stressing that healthcare free at the point of use is an “absolutely governing principle”. Pressed on how this approach squares with his pledge during his leadership campaign to “end outsourcing in our NHS”, Starmer said the health service has “always used elements from the private sector”.

Commenting following Starmer’s interview, a Momentum spokesperson said: “On a day when Rishi Sunak is under fire for his relationship to private healthcare, it beggars belief that the Labour leadership is choosing to embrace the role of the private sector in the NHS.” They argued that the approach “doubles down” on a “key driving force” of the current crisis in the health service – the “damaging role of profit-making companies” in public health. “For Keir Starmer to go back on his leadership pledge to end NHS outsourcing is morally wrong and politically self-defeating,” they added.

During his interview at JLM conference on Sunday, Streeting declared that only a Labour government will make the NHS “fit for the future” but admitted that it would take longer than a single parliament to solve the problems that the health service is facing, explaining that Labour plans to set a “challenging but realistic” timeline for the NHS to hit key targets. Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, the Labour frontbencher said the party is having to think “quite radically” about how to “fix the front door to the NHS” and create alternative routes into the health service. “We are thinking radically, because I think people can see the NHS is broken,” Streeting told viewers. “And we’re gonna need to work with people, with patients, with the profession, to come up with our serious plan, not just to grip the current crisis in the NHS but to make it fit for the future.”

Labour has already clashed with the British Medical Association (BMA) over its plans, and the party’s latest proposal to “tear up the contract” with GPs and make them salaried NHS staff could result in a further confrontation. Streeting told JLM conference that when he highlights issues like A&E wait times, he is “bashing” the government, not NHS staff. But the simmering tensions around his plans for reform suggest that this message may not have been adequately communicated. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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