youhe NHS heads into this winter facing the biggest crisis in its history. People find it impossible to see a GP when they need one and 24 hours in the ER is no longer just a TV show but the sad reality for patients. When patients call 999 in an emergency, they can no longer be sure that an ambulance will reach them in time.
Behind the statistics are people who suffer, for months or even years, putting their lives on hold because of their pain. Thousands of people are forced to lose their jobs because they are awaiting operations or have to care for elderly relatives who cannot get the care they need. Young people still facing the mental health scars of lockdown wait years for help, so they can’t start their working lives.
Everyone is prevented from living their lives to the fullest and contributing to Britain’s economic success. Conservatives have never understood that the economy grows from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down. We will not build a healthy economy without a healthy society.
With no plan to fix the NHS this winter, the government plans to blame the nurses and paramedics, the heroes who got us through the pandemic while Downing Street was partying. The government’s approach is as dangerous as it is shameful. By refuse to negotiate with the health unions, it is attempting to wash its hands of the NHS winter crisis, leaving patients and staff to pay the price. If the Conservatives have given up governing, they should step aside.
If Labor were in government, we would be pulling every lever available to reduce NHS waiting times, including bargaining to avoid a strike. We would also be using spare capacity in the private sector to reduce waiting lists. Private providers have the capacity for 130% of the procedures they did for the SNS before the pandemic, but the government has not used it.
Had a Labor government been in office this year, hundreds of thousands more patients would have been treated at the National Health Service in private hospitals. Those people today would have new hips, clear eyesight, or reconstructed knees. They could be off the NHS waiting lists, back to work and able to enjoy their lives to the fullest again.
This treatment would be provided free of charge at the point of need. There are those, however, who say that this is a betrayal of left-wing values. To them I say there is nothing progressive about leaving the working class languishing on waiting lists in serious pain. I’m not going to let working class people get left out and those who can pay get seen faster. That is the two-tier healthcare system I want to end.
In the long term, we need to build capacity in the NHS so that all patients who need it can be treated in time again. Labor have pledged to further expansion of medical training in history, training 7,500 doctors and an additional 10,000 nurses and midwives each year, paid for by the abolition of non-dom tax status. Patients need treatment more than the wealthy need a tax break.
We have to go further. We cannot continue to invest money in a 20th century model of care if we want to meet the challenges of the 21st century. To make our NHS future-proof, the next Labor government will agree a 10 year plan of change and modernization. I have been attacked for this commitment by some who have suggested that reform is as much a danger to the NHS as privatisation.
I love the NHS. There were many things that worried me when I underwent kidney cancer treatment, but the one thing that never had to worry me was the bill. The NHS is free at the point of use and is funded through progressive taxation because Labor created it and those are our values. They will be erased over my dead body.
Nye Bevan said in 1948 that “this service must always be changing, growing and improving”. In the Labor Party, we have always understood that the NHS needs to change to adapt to modern challenges. Today the NHS must do better for patients who are being sorely let down. It is those opponents of reform who prove to be the true conservatives.
The truth is, we spend too much money on our hospitals because we don’t focus enough on prevention, early intervention, and social care. As a result, patients end up in A&E because they can’t get a GP appointment, reach crisis point because they can’t get mental health support, or get stuck in hospital because social care isn’t available.
The next Labor government will shift the focus of healthcare away from the hospital and towards the community. By doubling the number of district nurses who qualify each year, more patients will be treated in the comfort of their own homes. Training 5,000 new health visitors will help all children get a healthy start in life. Keir Starmer’s pledge to provide mental health support in all schools will finally address the crisis affecting young people.
At the same time, Britain can lead the revolution in medical science and technology, which has the potential to transform patient care. Home testing and virtual rooms mean people can be diagnosed and cared for surrounded by loved ones. That is the future of healthcare. If health problems can be detected earlier, so that treatment can be quicker and less invasive, it is better for the patient and less expensive for the taxpayer.
This tired and applauded government is unable to look up to the challenges and opportunities of the future. Only Labor can give Britain the fresh start she needs.