Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will outline plans on Monday to get the NHS “back on its feet” if his party wins the next general election, by pledging to cut waiting times and reduce deaths from cancer, heart disease and suicide.
In a speech, Starmer will argue that the future of the NHS will be “on the line” at the election, which is expected next year, and warn that the health service is not sustainable unless “serious, deep, long-term changes” are made.
Starmer will pledge to meet NHS cancer targets, ensuring that patients are seen on time and diagnosed early. He will also promise to reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes by 25 per cent within 10 years, cut A&E waiting times and ensure deaths from suicide are declining within five years.
With opinion polls currently giving his party a double-digit lead, Starmer will say: “The next Labour government will deliver an NHS that is there when you need it . . . we will get the NHS back on its feet.”
The health service is a major concern for voters following months of industrial action and staff shortages. Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s made reducing NHS waiting times one of five pledges as leader.
According to YouGov, 45 per cent of those polled believe that health is the most important issue facing the country, second only to the handling of the economy.
The state of the health service also dominated the recent May local elections which saw the Conservatives lose around 1,000 council seats across England.
The Financial Times reported over the weekend that medical professionals, including the Royal College of Radiologists, had written to health secretary Steve Barclay warning that cancer patients’ chances of survival were falling because of treatment delays in England owing to staff shortages.
The letter warned that staffing levels had forced many hospital departments to take “difficult decisions over whether to withhold access to approved treatments or prioritise which patients can receive treatment within a safe time at the expense of others.”
Lengthy wait times for cancer patients were now “sadly routine,” the letter added, noting that for each month of delays the risk of death increased by around 10 per cent.
Overall, the waiting list for all hospital treatments in England stood at a record 7.3mn at the end of March, according to official data published this month, with almost 360,000 people waiting longer than a year and just under 11,000 waiting more than 18 months.