The NHS is no longer the “envy of the world”, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has warned. He says it will take a Labour government to save it from collapse and claims the health service faces the “biggest crisis in its history”. The 39-year-old political rising star said: “What makes this crisis different from any other crisis we’ve ever had in the NHS is that emergency care has completely broken.”
One of the top priorities is ensuring people have “neighbourhood” access to primary care and are not kept in hospital longer than necessary. The Ilford North MP does not pretend the challenges can be addressed in a single parliamentary term but promises a “serious 10-year plan to make the NHS and social care system fit for the future”.
In a candid interview, Mr Streeting sees the restoration of the NHS as a defining challenge for a Labour government. He said: “I know this myself having gone through kidney cancer, the best thing about the NHS is when you become ill the one thing you don’t have to worry about is the bill.”
“I wouldn’t swap that for the world. I think it is one of the things that makes the NHS great and loved.”
“But it’s the quality of service and quality of access which has just collapsed… And I think it will fall to the party which created the NHS 75 years ago to now invest in it and make sure it is fit for the future.”
Mr Streeting casts himself as a reformer who wants to fix failures. He said: “When I’ve said the NHS is a service not a shrine, that the NHS is no longer the envy of the world – and I’m not going to pretend it is – I’m not bashing the staff who work in it. “
“They are some of the people who are warning me about the state of the NHS. I’m also reflecting the common experience of staff who are burned out, thoroughly demoralised and distressed about the conditions they are working in.”
He is no doubt about the structural problems that must be tackled.
Mr Streeting said: “If you compare the NHS to other leading healthcare systems in the world we spend far more than almost all of them on hospital care, doing late diagnosis which means more expensive and less effective treatment.”
“What we really need to do is shift activity out of hospitals and into the community, so more GPs and better primary care.”
With Labour around 20 points ahead in the polls, he knows in little more than a year the nation’s health could be his responsibility. But he stresses he cannot promise “quick fixes”.
“We are going to need time,” he said. “The public finances are in an absolute mess, and that’s why we’re being so careful about the promises we make because we want to go into the next election knowing that we can deliver the pledges.”