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LABOUR’S leadership is offering “dangerous false solutions” to the crisis-hit NHS, campaigners warned today after Sir Keir Starmer said the health service must “reform or die.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s successor told the BBC that the NHS should always be free at the point of use, but that there is also a “role for the private sector,” including with help clearing massive waiting lists.
The party leader also proposed allowing patients to make self-referrals for conditions like back pain to “cut bureaucracy,” but he did not mention pay.
Health unions currently engaged in national strike action have repeatedly warned that a decade of Tory austerity on wages is sparking a worker exodus and endangering patient safety.
Asked about his priorities for the NHS, Sir Keir told the Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I want to reform the health service because I want to preserve it.
“If we don’t reform the health service we will be in managed decline.
“It will always have to be a public service, free at the point of use, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't use effectively the private sector as well.”
The ex-shadow Brexit secretary, who also set out his NHS plans in an article for right-wing newspaper the Sunday Telegraph, criticised health service bureaucracy, saying: “Anybody who’s been on the 8 o’clock call trying to get a GP appointment knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
The Socialist Health Association, Labour’s affiliated socialist society for healthcare and medical professionals, said Sir Keir is “right that the Tory-damaged NHS is in urgent need of repair.”
But the group stressed that his solutions “are all wrong.
“After over a decade of Conservative austerity, with staff leaving in droves amid real-terms pay cuts of up to 26 per cent since 2010, the NHS is desperately in need of more funding.
“Instead, the Labour leadership is offering bromides and dangerous false solutions. For Keir Starmer to advocate self-referrals for internal bleeding is a recipe for disaster that will waste resources and cost lives.
“The emphasis on private sector involvement will accelerate a two-tier health system — one for the rich and one for the rest of us.”
The association slammed Labour for “picking fights with hard-working doctors” after shadow health secretary Wes Streeting threatened to force GPs onto directly employed NHS contracts, saying the leadership should “listen to party conference” instead.
The group’s motion demanding “outright opposition to any and all forms of NHS privatisation” was unanimously backed by members and unions at the party’s 2022 get-together in Liverpool.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, whose health worker members are also in dispute with the government over pay, said: “Labour’s key message should be that it will reverse those cuts so the NHS can truly get back on its feet, not that it will drive through yet another round of disruptive reform.
“We all know what needs to be done to improve patient care — reverse the years of austerity and pay staff properly.”
The call came as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that walkouts next month could involve double the number of members who downed tools in December to put more pressure on ministers amid reports of a Cabinet rift.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has reportedly told unions that he wants their help in persuading the Treasury to offer higher wage boosts to NHS workers.
Unison’s Sara Gorton told the Observer newspaper that the North East Cambridgeshire MP had “talked about asking us to help make the case for the investment needed” amid opposition from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen described the PM’s position as “baffling, reckless and politically ill-considered.”
Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis told the Star: "The destruction of the NHS will only be averted if there is significant long-term investment.
"Comparable European countries have been spending 18 per cent more on health per head of population than the UK. No amount of ‘reform’ can compensate for this chronic underfunding and the figures speak for themselves.
"Labour needs to be honest about this fact if it wishes to present itself as the party of the NHS."
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