29 May 2024

NHS going through ‘worst crisis in its history,’ says Wes Streeting

It wasn’t just the back and forth on Diane Abbott distracting from the Labour Party’s announcement on cutting NHS waiting lists.

Junior doctors in England have announced another five day strike, just before the election.

We spoke to the Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting and began by asking him if he thinks the NHS is broken, and why.

Wes Streeting: The NHS is broken. It’s going through what is objectively the worst crisis in its history, and we’ve seen 14 years of chaos, mismanagement and bad political leadership that led to record waiting lists before the pandemic and rising waiting lists since the pandemic. To the extent that we now see waiting lists tripled compared to where they were in 2010, and we’ve turned on its head the record of the last Labour government, which delivered the shortest waiting times and the highest patient satisfaction ever, to a situation where we see the longest waiting list and the lowest patient satisfaction on record.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Isn’t your plan for the NHS rather modest? All you’re offering to do is take us back to where we were in 2016, with waiting lists for many people of four months before they get their treatment.

Wes Streeting: What we’re setting out today is far more ambitious than it was even in 1997, where Labour committed to cut NHS waiting lists by 100,000 by sacking some NHS managers. Here, what we’ve set out today on the campaign trail is a plan to deliver 40,000 more appointments every week through extra evening and weekend working…

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Which will take us back to 2016.

Wes Streeting: That will put £1.1 billion into the pockets of NHS staff. It’s doubling the number of diagnostic scanners, so we diagnose earlier and treat faster. And compared to where we are today, getting the NHS waiting times back to the 18 week standard that the NHS has always tried to work to, but hasn’t met since 2016, would be revolutionary for people on those waiting lists.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Doesn’t that sum up the modesty of what Labour’s offering here? That all you’re doing is offering effectively to take us back to how things were a few years ago? You’re not offering to actually fix the NHS in the way that you say it’s broken.

Wes Streeting: What I want to do at this election is make sure we under-promise with the aim of over-delivering, than do what the Conservatives have done, which is over-promise and under-deliver.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Where’s your pledge on social care? There’s nothing on that.

Wes Streeting: We’re making a number of commitments on social care. We’ve made a commitment to stabilise the workforce and deliver fair pay, the first ever fair pay agreements in social care, which would make a real difference to staff recruitment and retention. We’ve made a commitment to deliver national standards in social care so that wherever you live, wherever you’re from, whether you need older care in later life, or whether you need disabled people’s care, that you will get the support that you need consistently across the country. As with the NHS, it is going to take time to build to where we want to be.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But if you’re not really going to deliver massive change with the NHS, and it’s all incremental and ten years away, what’s the point? Where’s the change?

Wes Streeting: We’re talking about a backdrop where there are 7.5 million people on an NHS waiting list, where people are waiting more than a year. I talked to a veteran who waited more than two years for care here in Worcester. Getting down to 18 weeks, that’s revolutionary compared to where we are. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry that the Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. I’m really sorry that the Labour Party in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019 weren’t able to persuade people to put their cross in Labour’s box in sufficient numbers. And that is the jeopardy that’s hanging in the balance on 4 July.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: For a man who doesn’t like waiting lists, do you think Diane Abbott had to wait too long, when it took over a year to judge something she wrote, immediately withdrew, and apologised for?

Wes Streeting: I accept that Diane Abbott has waited too long. I think it was right that disciplinary action was taken. And right, by the way, to acknowledge that Diane apologised, rightly, for what she said. We will find out what’s happening as regards to Diane’s candidacy at the general election, whether she wants to stand, would be able to stand. Keir Starmer has obviously spoken to that in terms of correcting earlier reports.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Have you all been telling the truth when asked about the process? Because Keir Starmer, and many of you, have carried on saying there was an ongoing process. It is now claimed that the process was finished five months ago, that she was given her warning, sent on re-training and that the process was over. Why would you keep saying that it was ongoing? What was ongoing?

Wes Streeting: I always relay facts in good faith. I’m not part of the Labour Party’s disciplinary process. On days like this, I’m very grateful for that. But I can’t give you a commentary on this, because I’ve not been involved in the process.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But do you feel misled?

Wes Streeting: No, I take Keir at his word. I’ve always trusted Keir. And I hope that this matter can be drawn to a successful conclusion for everyone involved.