Labour’s Wes Streeting claims ‘wasteful’ NHS using winter crises as excuse for cash

Shadow health secretary accused of ‘undermining trust’ in the health service – but he insists public must ‘hear the truth’

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 10 December 2023 13:12 GMT
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Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has accused the “wasteful” NHS of using repeated winter crises as “an excuse to ask for more money”.

The key figure in Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet said the public needed “to hear the truth about the NHS” – promising a “tough love” approach to running the health service.

Mr Streeting vowed to “shake the NHS and the public out of complacency” over Britain’s healthcare, as he pledged to bring back a family doctor system as part of Labour’s wide-ranging reforms.

“I think people working in the NHS and the patients using the NHS can see examples of waste and inefficiency,” he told The Sunday Times on a visit to Singapore.

And in an outspoken attack on health service bosses, Mr Streeting added: “I don’t think it’s good enough that the NHS uses every winter crisis and every challenge it faces as an excuse to ask for more money.”

The frontbencher said the NHS is “not the envy of the world, it is not delivering the quality of care that any of us want, and unless it changes, it’s not going to survive”.

Leading NHS campaigner Dr Rachel Clarke fired back at Mr Streeting – accusing him of “quite openly and deliberately undermining public trust in the NHS”.

Labour’s Wes Streeting accused NHS of ‘waste and inefficiency’
Labour’s Wes Streeting accused NHS of ‘waste and inefficiency’ (PA Wire)

She said the senior Labour MP’s claim that the health service “used” crises to ask for cash was “the most massive kick in the guts” for NHS staff – and added that he was using the problems as a “political football”.

Dr Clarke tweeted: “Do you have any idea how hellish it is to work in an NHS A&E over winter? How much staff give in those horrific conditions? How dare you insinuate they’re somehow ‘using’ those conditions for their own ends? Show some respect, please.”

Mr Streeting insisted that NHS bosses were “going to have to get used to the fact that money is tight” even if Labour wins power next year, and would have to “get used to switching spend, and rethinking where and how care is delivered”.

He said he would give managers “freedom to innovate and create as long as they deliver”, adding: “That’s the tough love that people can look forward to if I become the health and social care secretary.”

Visiting Singapore General Hospital, Mr Streeting said he was impressed by a system he said was “designed around patients”. He said Labour would bring back a family doctor system as part of key changes.

“The irony is that in Singapore, we have a government that is seeking to move towards a family doctor relationship. In the UK, we’ve got a Conservative government that’s moved our country away from it because we don’t have enough GPs,” he claimed.

Mr Streeting added: “The NHS is perfectly capable of arranging appointments in a way that maximises the convenience of patients – it just often chooses not to, or the system isn’t wired to think about that.”

The shadow health secretary said NHS patients should get more power to swap GPs using the NHS app.

And Mr Streeting said he wanted to see something like Singapore’s health app – which lets patients link up hospital and GP services as well as accessing their medical records. “I am really interested in exploring this approach,” Mr Streeting said.

The Labour frontbencher also suggested he would be “happy” to listen to GPs about dropping some of the government’s targets in a bid to free up their time.

“If you’re measuring 55 things, you’re really not measuring anything at all ... let’s get rid of the stupid stuff that is holding the system back,” he said.

Sir Keir has previously said that inefficiencies in the NHS created a “mind-boggling waste of time” and that he wanted to allow patients to be able to bypass GPs and refer themselves to specialists.

But the British Medical Association said Labour didn’t “understand” the vital role of GPs, while Dr Clarke called the proposal “monumentally stupid”.

The Labour leader and his shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves have both warned that there will be no “big government chequebook” to save the NHS – insisting that major reforms are needed in the way it is run.

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