Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to reduce deaths from heart disease, strokes and suicide in England if he wins the next general election.
He also said that a future Labour government would hit all NHS cancer targets so patients are seen on time and diagnosed in the early stages of the disease to improve their chance of survival.
What did Starmer promise?
In a speech at an ambulance station in Braintree in Essex today (May 22), Starmer said there needed to be “big shifts” in the way the NHS operates, suggesting the health service in its current form was not sustainable unless major changes were made.
He promised to hit - with “no backsliding” or “excuses” - existing health service targets which haven’t been met for some years - such as seeing 95% of A&E patients in England within four hours and having an ambulance arrive within seven minutes of someone reporting a cardiac arrest.
Starmer said that he would reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by a quarter within ten years - and “revolutionise” mental health treatment with the recruitment of 8,500 new professionals and greater emphasis on reducing suicide rates.
He also committed to scrapping adverts aimed at children for products such as vapes and sugary food and said he wanted to “deepen” the use of technology like the existing NHS app to “transform” people’s relationships with the health service so it’s easier to book appointments and refer themselves for treatment.
by Tom Hourigan in Braintree
In a pretty draughty ambulance station, Keir Starmer sought to warm up his audience - made up mostly of Labour supporters - with pledges few people would argue with. Cut waiting lists - tick. Ensure cancer is picked up earlier and treated more quickly - tick. Widen access to mental health treatment - tick.
He also made it clear he was realistic about the challenges ahead and the reforms needed to ensure the NHS works for everyone - insisting he wouldn’t put the health service on a “pedestal”.
But he batted away every question from the journalists sat around me about how much these reforms would cost - repeating several times that this is not all about money. These were fair questions, though, when the shortfall in the NHS budget is estimated to be up to £7 billion this year.
Ahead of the election, Starmer is setting out five national “missions” to the public to address criticism that people don’t know what he stands for. But there aren’t many politicians who don’t want to invest and improve in the NHS - so the Labour leader will need to get into the detail, and explain how he’ll keep his word if he gets into Downing Street, sooner rather than later.
How high are current rates of heart disease, strokes and suicide?
In 2021, heart disease accounted for nearly 57,000 deaths in England and Wales - a rise of 2.1% on 2020. It was the leading cause of death in men. The Stroke Association estimates that 100,000 people in the UK have strokes each year. In England alone, one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime. And official figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2021, there were just under 5,600 suicides in England and Wales.
How would the changes be funded?
Labour says the “biggest expansion of NHS training in its history” will be paid for by removing the “non-dom” tax status - which allows UK residents who live overseas to avoid paying tax to the Treasury on money they make elsewhere in the world. Starmer said other tax loopholes would also be closed to raise money for the health service.
But the party hasn’t given precise figures. Starmer said it would do so “before the election” and would make decisions “based on a full appreciation of reality - on the state of the NHS and our public finances”.
What have the Conservatives said?
A Conservative source said that cutting NHS waiting lists was one of Rishi Sunak’s top five priorities for the country - highlighting that 18-month waits for treatment in England were “down 91% from the peak and two-year waits virtually eliminated.”
They added that “if Labour wanted to address waiting lists, they shouldn’t have voted against Conservative plans for more doctors” - a reference to Labour’s commitment to reverse pension allowance reforms benefiting high-earning medics.