Healthcare, healthcare, healthcare. That would appear to be Labour’s current mantra, with the party this week releasing a series of attacks on the government’s handling of the NHS. As was the case with Labour’s recent crime policy blitz, the party is spoiled for choice on its lines of attack, issuing a drip feed of shocking statistics throughout the week – from cancer patients waiting up to six months to see a specialist after their GP has urgently referred them to hospital, to a patient spending more than an hour and half waiting for their 999 call to be picked up, to another patient waiting two and half days for an ambulance, which should have arrived within two hours. Labour’s criticisms have been getting cut through across the media – with Keir Starmer securing three front-page interviews in recent days – though its attempts to use them as a basis for local elections campaigning have raised some eyebrows online, given that councils do not run the NHS.
The Labour leader told the i newspaper that a future Labour government would make NHS targets central to cut waiting times for patients, following the model of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The last Labour government did obviously put targets around it so there is a model there that we know can work.” Labour has also pledged to guarantee patients face-to-face appointments if they want them and to “bring back” the family doctor so patients can see the same GP at each appointment.
But its plans have received criticism from doctors and other NHS voices, with GP spokesperson for the Doctors’ Association UK Dr Steve Taylor accusing the party of ignoring retention. He said: “It’s a complete soundbite that everyone will be able to see a doctor of their choice. We’re about 8,000 doctors short of that, which is an entire medical school year output. It’s not going to happen, is it?” Editor of GP publication Pulse Jaimie Kaffash argued that the party is “unserious” and that the leadership “know that their proposals wouldn’t fulfil their promises”.
Labour has already clashed with the British Medical Association over its plans for NHS reform, with Wes Streeting accusing the doctors’ union of being “hostile” and treating him like “some sort of heretic” for discussing the “appalling state of access to primary care”. The Shadow Health Secretary is due to give a speech on GP reform tomorrow, which could reignite tensions following reports earlier this year that Labour could “tear up the contract” with GPs and make them salaried NHS staff. Labour also needs to fend off Conservative accusations that its reform proposals are a “£15bn top-down restructuring… opposed by patients and doctors”. The Tories have claimed the plan is unfunded, likely in the hope of denting Labour’s economic credibility and stoking fears of tax hikes. But a Labour spokesperson told LabourList it was not a spending pledge, as it would be based on existing GP practices choosing to reform or changes when GPs retire rather than an “overnight change”.
Also just announced – the Association of School and College Leaders is to formally ballot its members on strike action for the first time ever. It comes after the FDA announced its first ballot of senior civil servants in decades yesterday. Meanwhile, PCS members in passport offices and Unite workers at Heathrow confirmed walkouts on Wednesday. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.