Wes Streeting Calls for NHS Modernization to Prevent Financial Crisis
In a speech at the Labour Party conference, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, issued a dire warning, stating that the NHS urgently needs modernization to avert an impending financial catastrophe. He emphasised the challenges posed by an ageing population and the growing prevalence of conditions like heart disease, dementia, and diabetes, which have the potential to financially strain the NHS to the point of collapse.
Streeting pledged that a Labour government would prioritise community-based services and mental health, which would be integral to a comprehensive and far-reaching reform plan, including changes to the social care system. He criticised the Conservative Party for creating a two-tier healthcare system where those who can afford it are turning to private healthcare for routine surgeries such as hip and knee replacements.
To fund these enhanced NHS services, Streeting proposed the abolition of non-domiciled (non-dom) tax status. This status currently allows UK residents whose permanent residence is outside the UK to avoid paying UK tax on income earned outside the country. The revenue generated from ending non-domestic status would help finance more medical procedures, diagnostic tests, and appointments.
The shift towards community-based services would involve the establishment of mental health hubs and the provision of dedicated mental health support in every school. Streeting also emphasised the need to shield children from industries such as junk food advertising. Labour aims to introduce a ban on junk food advertising, a proposal that the current government has also suggested but has yet to implement.
Furthermore, Streeting cautioned the vaping industry about marketing e-cigarettes to children, specifically citing flavours like “rainbow burst.” He mentioned Labour’s support for Rishi Sunak’s plan to incrementally raise the smoking age each year until a complete ban is in place.
The initial phases of this reform would involve the development of a workforce plan for social care and a pay review. Streeting also urged the government to re-engage in negotiations to resolve the ongoing pay dispute with doctors. Although no new strikes have been announced following the recent joint walkout by junior doctors and consultants, Streeting saw an “opportunity window” for resolution. Nevertheless, he accused the prime minister of exploiting the dispute rather than genuinely seeking solutions. The British Medical Association has called for significant pay increases, with some junior doctors seeking as much as a 35% raise.