NHS crisis: Labour’s Wes Streeting says the ‘obsession with pouring money into hospitals’ must end

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Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, said reform will need to do “more of the heavy lifting” than investment when it comes to fixing the crisis in the NHS.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary has said “the obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals” must end as he insisted that reform is the way to cure the crisis in the NHS.

Speaking on Friday (21 April) at a King’s Fund conference in central London, Wes Streeting warned that money alone will not fix the NHS - and that reform will need to do “more of the heavy lifting” than investment when it comes to improving care and services for patients.

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“The front door to the NHS is broken and the exit door is blocked,” the Ilford North MP remarked. “Pouring ever-increasing funds into secondary care will never be enough to meet the growing demand created by the failure to reform. We have got to stop the obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals.”

He admitted that one reason he is pushing so heavily for reform is because the country’s public finances are “in a mess”, meaning there is a “practical constraint” - but also insisted that investing more into the NHS without addressing some of the root causes of its crisis would be neither “responsible or credible”.

Streeting went on to hint that he wanted to appeal to more voters with this new strategy, remarking: “There is an assumption from some areas of the electorate that Labour’s answer is always just ‘more money’. But in this case, I genuinely don’t think that the answer is just more money.”

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary has said “the obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals” must end as he insisted that reform is the way to cure the crisis in the NHS. Credit: PALabour’s Shadow Health Secretary has said “the obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals” must end as he insisted that reform is the way to cure the crisis in the NHS. Credit: PA
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary has said “the obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals” must end as he insisted that reform is the way to cure the crisis in the NHS. Credit: PA | PA

The Shadow Health Secretary’s speech comes as the NHS faces the biggest crisis in its history, with striking workers, record waiting times for emergency services, staff shortages, and huge backlogs with millions of patients waiting to be seen.

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Explaining how a Labour Party government would tackle the issues at hand, Streeting placed a focus on supporting primary care, such as pharmacies and GPs. “It is time to make the NHS as much about neighbourhood health services as it is a National Health Service,” he said. “Labour is looking at how we can get patients the help they need from a wider range of healthcare professionals closer to home.”

Labour’s notion of a ‘Neighbourhood Health Service’ would include initiatives such as allowing opticians to refer patients to specialist services, so people do not have to wait for a GP appointment for a referral, and enabling pharmacists to administer vaccinations. This, Streeting said, would move more healthcare “into communities”, cut “unnecessary red tape”, and “reduce the intolerable pressure” that is currently placed on GPs.

Patients would also be given more choice and “greater control over their healthcare”, Streeting continued, saying he would like people to be able to choose how they attend an appointment - whether that be in person, over the phone, or via a video call. In freeing up GPs and creating a more varied primary care system, the Shadow Health Secretary said he hopes Labour will end the “8am scramble for a doctor’s appointment.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Streeting reiterated previously announced plans to train an extra 7,500 doctors and 10,000 more nurses and midwives each year. He said this workforce plan would cost £1.6 billion, something the Labour Party would pay for by abolishing non-domicile status - which he estimated would generate £3 billion in tax revenue.

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The MP was also questioned on how Labour would deal with the ongoing strikes within the NHS, which he offered less insight on. He would not say how much his party would offer nurses and junior doctors, saying it would be “silly” to do so, nor when the public could expect to receive this information.

Instead, he asked voters to “judge Labour on our record” - saying that when the party was last in government it “not only delivered decent and fair pay rises for staff year on year” but also “delivered full pay restoration”. He then slammed the Tories for failing to successfully negotiate with striking workers, saying that the British Medical Association “currently has no strikes planned” and has said it is “willing to go lower than 35%”, but Health Secretary Steve Barclay “still won’t get in the room”.

Towards the end of the conference, Streeting was also asked about his opinions on Dominic Raab’s resignation following the inquiry into bullying allegations against him. The Labour MP slammed the former Deputy PM for showing “no remorse or contrition”, and claimed that Rishi Sunak had been “too weak to sack him because he is scared of the right wing of [the Conservative Party].”

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