Wes Streeting’s NHS plans anger Labour health group but impress NHS chiefs

Katie Neame
© Pegasus Pics/Shutterstock.com

The Socialist Health Association has dubbed Wes Streeting’s warning that Labour cannot “pour more resources” into the NHS without improving efficiency “deeply worrying”.

The Shadow Health Secretary’s latest speech on Labour’s approach to the NHS on Friday drew criticism from the group, which is formally affiliated to the party. But much of the speech was welcomed by NHS leaders, a respected health think tank and The Times.

Streeting: extra cash not ‘credible’ without reform

In a speech this morning at The Kings Fund’s offices in London, Streeting said Labour wants to make the NHS “as much a Neighbourhood Health Service as it is a National Health Service”.

The Labour frontbencher set out three principles on which the party’s reforms to primary care would be based: “healthcare on your doorstep”, “there for you when you need it” and “patients in control”.

Streeting told attendees: “We have already made a clear commitment on what this shift will look like, with our pledge to put a mental health hub in every community and mental health support in every school, paid for by abolishing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers.”

He said Labour would widen the range of healthcare professionals working alongside GPs to reduce pressure on primary care, for example by increasing the use of pharmacists in giving vaccinations.

The Labour frontbencher stressed that both investment and reform are needed to address the issues in the health service, telling attendees: “The state of the public finances means that reform will have to do more of the heavy lifting.”

He argued that it would not be “responsible or credible” for Labour to say it would “pour more resources in” without first setting out how it plans to improve efficiency.

SHA ‘disappointed’ not to see different vision

The Socialist Health Association said the NHS needed a “significant funding boost”, and released a statement   indicating the affiliated group is significantly at odds with the party’s health spokesperson.

“We are calling on the Labour leadership to set out a new vision for a renationalised, well-resourced NHS according to its founding principles as established by the post-war Labour government.

“The savings to be made by returning to a universal, publicly-provided NHS are absolutely colossal. We are disappointed that Wes Streeting is not making such a proposal.”

Diverting resources from secondary care to primary care is also “not the answer”, the group claimed. But the group is “very willing” to discuss its criticisms of Labour’s proposals with the shadow health team “in a spirit of constructive problem-solving”.

The SHA’s London branch even retweeted a post earlier this week that accused Streeting of “betrayal of the history and values” of Labour. It was approached for comment about whether it endorsed the post.

Meanwhile the Tories claimed this week that Labour’s recent proposals on making GPs salaried staff amounted to a “£15bn top-down restructuring… opposed by patients and doctors”. Backbench Labour MP Jon Trickett also said NHS staff “want a long-term plan, not top-down reorganisations – and they urgently need proper financing”.

Streeting stressed on Friday there was “no intention of nationalising GPs” however, saying the party was simply consulting and “genuinely open-minded” on the GP partnership model.

Welcome from NHS chiefs and experts

But Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said: “Primary care leaders will welcome Labour’s intention to shift the focus to managing demand through greater investment in prevention and out of hospital care and will be pleased to see an acknowledgement of the unsustainable pressures facing general practice.”

Its members will also agree “reform is needed”, welcome plans to expand the workforce and be “encouraged” by Labour’s acknowledgment current investment in primary and community care, mental health and diagnostics lags other countries.

But Rankine warned leaders had already sought to make efficiencies and “might wonder where more efficiencies may be found”, with a need for investment in the current workforce.

Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, also said there was “much to welcome in the broad aims” set out by the Shadow Health Secretary. But she added that “translating these warm words into tangible change for patients will require radical reform across the whole health and care system.”

She added: “More GPs will be key to driving this change, but also vital will be the time and capacity from experienced GPs, who are already under extreme pressure, to train more new GPs. Efforts to retain these experienced staff are therefore critical to achieve the ambitions on recruitment.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy policy director Rob Yeldham also welcomed the attention being given to community services, but said any commitment to more funding and staff for high-quality rehab services was “missing”.

Labour will also have been pleased to have received the backing of the Times in its editorial, which called the party’s plans “encouraging” and welcomed Labour’s focus on more than higher spending alone.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

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