Labour vows to clear 18-week-plus NHS waiting lists backlog within five years

Katie Neame
Wes Streeting, centre, with Labour leader Keir Starmer, right.

Labour will commit to clearing the backlog of patients facing waits of more than 18 weeks within its first term in government if the party comes to power, with Keir Starmer declaring that the party will “make sure” the NHS is “there for everyone”.

The Labour leader will join Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting on a general election campaign visit in the West Midlands on Wednesday, during which they will pledge to clear the waiting lists backlog within five years, highlighting the success of the last Labour government in reducing waiting times.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Starmer said: “Putting the NHS back on its feet and making it fit for the future is personal for me. It runs through my family like a stick of rock, which is why one of my five missions is to turn it around after 14 years of Conservative decline.

“The first step of my Labour government will be to cut NHS waiting lists, clearing the Tory backlog. We will roll up our sleeves to work with NHS staff, not against them. We will stop the anxiety of wondering if an ambulance will come on time. We will bring back the family doctor.

“The NHS has been there for my family when we needed it. I’ll make sure it’s there for everyone. Wait with the Tories. Change with Labour.”

The NHS Constitution sets a standard that 92% of patients waiting for non-urgent treatment should wait no longer than 18 weeks between referral and their first treatment. According to a King’s Fund report in December last year, this standard had not been met since September 2015.

READ MORE: Labour general election manifesto 2024: What policies will the party include?

The policy commitments set out alongside Labour’s pledge have been previously announced, with the party saying its plan to clear the backlog includes:

  • “As a first step, 40,000 extra appointments, scans and operations a week, during evenings and weekends.
  • “Double the number of scanners to diagnose patients earlier.
  • “Deliver the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history.
  • “Use spare capacity in the private sector, free of charge to patients.
  • “Reform the NHS to get more out of the service for what we put in.”

Streeting said: “Over 14 years, the Conservatives have taken the golden inheritance left by the last Labour government and wrecked it. Their neglect, incompetence and underinvestment in the NHS has left millions of people waiting in pain and agony.

“Rishi Sunak has given up on the NHS. He has no plan to turn this crisis around, which he blames on doctors and nurses instead of taking any responsibility himself. Patients deserve solutions not scapegoats.”

“The longer the Conservatives are in charge, the longer patients will wait. We will deliver an extra 40,000 appointments a week at evenings and weekends, the first step on our mission to beat the Tory backlog. We will pay for it by clamping down on tax dodgers, because patients need doctors, not dodgers,” he added.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

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