NHS will take more than one term to fix, says Streeting

New UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer (R), with Cabinet shoo-in Angela Rayner

New UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer (R), with Cabinet shoo-in Angela Rayner

While the headlines are all about the Labour landslide in the UK general election this morning, Wes Streeting, who has been shadow health secretary in opposition and may well have the equivalent role in government, came perilously close to losing his seat.

The Ilford North MP won with just over 500 more votes than British-Palestinian independent candidate Leanne Mohamad, whose campaign focused on the Gaza conflict. He held on though, to take his place in Labour’s massive majority, with 411 seats at last count versus 120 for the Conservatives.

Wes Streeting
Wes Streeting

Streeting acknowledged in an interview with Channel 4 news last night that, while it will take more than one term to get the NHS back on its feet, Labour will have to show progress in the first five years.

“The NHS is going through what is objectively the worst crisis in its history,” he said, pointing to patients waiting for too long in A&E, dying while on record waiting lists, and struggling to access GP services.

“Unless it reforms and modernises, it is not going to survive the 21st Century. It’s not going to be there for us when we need it,” he added.

Streeting said that Labour has set some “tough, ambitious, but achievable targets” for the health service, including getting waiting lists down within one term, and wants to deliver “the best healthcare service in the world” within a decade.

Its plan includes a pledge to reduce lives lost to the diseases that are the biggest killers, closing the gap in healthy life expectancy between those from the wealthiest and poorest backgrounds, and tackling the racial disparities within the NHS.

He also emphasised, however, that the NHS’ challenges are taking place against a revolution in life sciences and medtech, in which the UK is still playing a prominent role.

The Labour government will make technological advances like artificial intelligence and precision medicine a key part of its plans to reform the NHS and foster close partnerships with industry, said Streeting.

Industry on board

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has already indicated it was happy with many elements of Labour’s manifesto, particularly the singling out of the UK’s life sciences sector as a critical partner for the new government’s plans to deliver economic growth.

It said after the document was published that it was encouraged by Labour’s ambition for a ‘plan for procurement’ – aimed at giving a clearer route for products to be introduced into the NHS – along with reformed incentive structures to drive innovation and faster regulatory approval for new technology and medicines.

“A strong industry-government partnership will be vital to ensure that we continue to discover breakthrough medical innovation in the UK and ensure NHS patients are among the first people in the world to benefit from the latest medicines and vaccines,” said Richard Torbett, the ABPI’s chief executive.

“The new government now needs to hit the ground running and rapidly set out a clear, detailed plan for what the government will do in the coming weeks and years to address persistent inequalities in access to medicines and vaccines as well as unlock our sector’s true growth potential,” he added.

Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said: “The incoming Labour government has been elected with a clear mandate to prioritise economic growth and its manifesto identified the life sciences sector as a great British industry primed to deliver it. We are looking forward to working with the new team on this mission. The Labour Party’s life sciences sector plan published in February shows the ground work already laid on which a new life sciences strategy can be built. Addressing the chronic underinvestment by the UK pension industry in start-ups and scale-ups, and fine-tuning the tax system to support innovation-led growth, will be the first orders of business."

He added: “The general election has also delivered a fantastic cohort of scientifically-engaged MPs, with biomedical researchers and biotech leaders taking their place on the green benches in the Palace of Westminster. Their knowledge and understanding of innovation will be critical as the UK finds its way in a new global era where science and innovation will determine country’s economic and social progress."