Keir Starmer has come under scrutiny over how he will fund the vast reforms he is planning to secure the future of the NHS.
The Labour leader gave a news briefing in Essex where he laid out his vision for the health service, as well as specific policy proposals and pledges for what his government would do if it wins power at the next election.
The NHS formed one of the five missions Sir Keir laid out in February that will be the core of his election manifesto heading into 2024.
- Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7
- Build an NHS fit for the future
- Make Britain’s streets safe
- Break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage
- Make Britain a clean energy superpower
In his speech, Sir Keir set out three goals for the NHS, including that it would be “fit for purpose” with ambulances arriving within seven minutes for cardiac arrest, that four-hour waiting targets will be met in A&E and that GPs will have the highest satisfaction rate on record under a Labour government.
The second focused on inequalities, with Sir Keir promising to “improve healthy life expectancy for all” and to halt the inequality gap between different regions of England.
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And the third was centred on the “three killers”, with pledges to get heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and strokes down by a quarter in a decade and that 75% of all cancer will be diagnosed at stage one or two.
Finally, he promised to reverse current rates of suicide – the biggest cause of death in men in England under the age of 50.
“Suicide is the biggest killer of young lives in this country, the biggest killer,” he said. “That statistic should haunt us. And the rate is going up. Our mission must be and will be to get it down”.
Shortly after he outlined his ambitions, Sir Keir faced questions from journalists on how his NHS targets and reforms would be funded.
Asked whether more money would go into the NHS under his leadership, Sir Keir replied that money was “part of the solution” but added: “It’s not all about money.”
He was also asked about pay for NHS staff, to which he said there will be the “biggest increase in training” in the history of the health service, which the party would pay for by scrapping the non-dom tax status.
Sky’s political correspondent Liz Bates challenged the Labour leader on funding, suggesting that he was trying to “kick the issue into the long grass”.
Asked whether voters could trust his plans if he “wasn’t prepared to say how much they will cost”, Sir Keir replied: “Let’s just call a spade a spade – where we’ve made a proposal about the change we’re going to make, we’ve said how it’s going to be funded. So this challenge you put to me that we’ve not said where the money is coming from, it’s just wrong.”
Keir Starmer must be upfront about funding or risk his missions looking like a wishlist
As part of a long-term effort to convince voters that Labour is ready for government, Sir Keir Starmer today unveiled the third of his five missions.
It seems that his response to being accused of lacking a big vision for the country is to unleash wave after wave of detailed policies and ambitious pledges, and today was no exception.
In a speech that lasted half an hour the wishlist went from slashing waiting times to restrictions on advertising to children.
It included personal anecdotes alongside transformative plans that span the next decade.
The only area that was a little light on information was how it would all be paid for, beyond some narrowly focused funding pledges on closing tax loopholes.
The Labour leader said that would be forthcoming as the next general election draws near.
But if he wants to reassure voters that the public finances, as well as the NHS, are safe in his hands he can’t put it off much longer.
But asked to give an overall estimate for how much the plans would cost, Sir Keir did not provide a specific figure, saying only that the party had set out the costing for “specific proposals in terms” and that technology, research and development would be “the game changers that reduce costs”.
How have the plans been received?
Chris Thomas, head of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) commission on health and prosperity, welcomed the plans but said investment would be crucial.
“The NHS was created at a time when conditions like tuberculosis remained among the biggest killers. But today’s challenges are different. A shift to more preventative care – and more care in the community – is long overdue.
“Labour is right in its ambition to create a 21st century plan for a 21st century NHS. But there also needs to be a plan for investment alongside these bold reforms to help make such an aspirational target believable.
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“Investing in the things that drive healthier lives, like good housing, a healthy diet and lower smoking rates will be critical for delivering healthier people and a healthier economy.”
But minister for health and social care, Will Quince, accused Sir Keir of shouting “from the sidelines”.
“The truth is Labour in Wales are currently missing all the targets Sir Keir Starmer has just set out for England.
“Labour have been running the health service in Wales for 25 years and haven’t met these targets. Sir Keir has a record of changing his mind – we can’t trust these will be Labour’s targets next week let alone in five years’ time.
“This Conservative government has already reduced 18-month waits by 91% from their peak, and two-year waits are virtually eliminated. We are delivering on our priorities to cut waiting lists and to improve the lives of everyone across the country.”