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‘A slap in the face to nurses, doctors and NHS staff in desperate need of a pay rise’

Labour accused of betraying the NHS after Wes Streeting says the health service needs more private-sector involvement

LABOUR’S Wes Streeting has declared war on his own party’s supporters, campaigners charged today after the shadow health secretary said he would force the NHS to rely on the private sector. 

Writing in the Sun, Mr Streeting vowed to rely on “spare capacity in the private sector to cut the waiting lists” — echoing current Tory policy.

In a bid to sow division among NHS users, he said “working families” are stuck in a two-tier system while those who complain about private services in the NHS are just “middle-class lefties.”

Mr Streeting went on to urge Sun readers to back Labour and its plans to perform “major surgery” on the NHS.

Momentum co-chair Hilary Schan said Mr Streeting’s attack on those asking for more NHS funding is “a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors and other NHS staff in desperate need of a pay rise, and a recipe for a continued recruitment and retention crisis.” 

The government’s Health & Social Care Act 2012 opened the floodgates to the sell-off of the NHS. Under the Act, all contracts were put on the “open market” for the first time.

According to campaign group The Lowdown’s analysis of the latest figures from the Department of Health & Social Care, private-sector spend increased by £600 million last year while the department’s total budget went down by £6.7 billion.

In the last two years, Mr Streeting has accepted £30,000 in donations from businessman John Armitage, who runs hedge fund Egerton Capital. In 2023 Mr Armitage was reported to have a stake worth over $500m (£395m) in US private health insurance company UnitedHealth. 

According to EveryDoctor, recruitment mogul Peter Hearn, who works with private healthcare firms, donated a total of £148,725 individually and via his company MPM Connect to Mr Streeting between 2020 and 2023.

In the Sun article, Mr Streeting vowed to put “artificial intelligence technology in every hospital.”

But Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “Far from representing ‘reform,’ IT and technology are just the basic tools to allow NHS staff to do their job.

“For every million Streeting now promises to give the private sector, he will be further undermining the publicly provided NHS, and staff will leave to work privately.”

Doctors’ union the BMA’s representative body chairwoman Dr Latifa Patel argued that there are workforce shortages both in the NHS and the private sector, so “suggestions of ‘spare capacity’ need to be handled with a dose of realism.

“It should not be a case of shifting the problem to the private sector while making little difference to the overall backlog,” she said.

Economist and tax justice campaigner Richard Murphy wrote on his blog Tax Justice UK that Mr Streeting was “declaring war on his own party’s natural supporters and the NHS unions.”

He called the Labour leadership a “total disgrace” that has “sold out on any remaining principles the right of the party ever had.”

The SNP’s health spokeswoman Amy Callaghan MP said that “instead of offering doctors and nurses a fair wage, [Labour leader] Sir Keir Starmer would prioritise handing over billions of pounds to private investors.

“They have made it abundantly clear: a vote for Labour is a vote for NHS privatisation,” she said. 

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