Labour pledges to 'end NHS crisis' with £26bn 'rescue plan'

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

The NHS will receive a £26 billion boost under a Labour government, which will cover the cost by taxing the richest in society, the party has pledged.

Labour said its "rescue plan" will provide safe, quality care, recruit thousands of staff, rebuild crumbling facilities and provide modern state-of-the-art equipment

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the investment plans, which were "more than the Tories are offering", would mean an increase in funding for primary and secondary care services.

Labour claimed its NHS funding outstrips that of the Conservatives, with the party saying its total Department of Health and Social Care budget would be £178 billion in 2023-24.

The Conservatives attacked the plans, saying a shorter working week to 32 hours as proposed by Labour would eat into the funding needed for more staff. Mr McDonnell said the 32-hour week would be phased in over a 10 year period and would be offset by increased productivity.

In a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Mr Ashworth announced Labour’s proposals to "end the Tory NHS crisis" with a £26 billion real-terms – £40 billion in cash terms – healthcare funding boost.

They announced an annual average 4.3% funding increase for health spending over the next four years, funded from Labour’s proposals to reverse corporation tax cuts and tax the wealthiest people in society.

Labour’s plan includes NHS capital expenditure rising to the international average, £1 billion-a-year training and education budgets, and £1 billion more to fund an expansion of public health services.

There will be a focused drive on prevention measures to stop people getting sick, as part of Labour’s mission to tackle health inequalities and prioritise children’s health and well-being.

Funding addiction services and mental health centres would also be given high importance under a Labour government.

Mr McDonnell said: “The world-class health service we all need and depend on needs proper funding.

“Labour’s policies to tax the richest in society and invest for the future through our Social Transformation Fund mean we will be able to improve millions of lives.

“And ending privatisation means that money can be spent on healthcare rather than dividends for Boris Johnson’s friends in the private healthcare industry.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will announce Labour’s proposals to 'end the Tory NHS crisis'. Credit: Jacob King/PA

Mr Ashworth said: “With experts warning this winter is set to be one of the worst, the truth is our NHS is crying out for a financial rescue plan to deliver real change for patients.

“We are announcing today the levels of investment our NHS needs to not only again provide the quality care our sick and elderly deserve but secures the NHS for the future as well.

“We’ll invest more to prevent people becoming ill in the first place and we’ll give mental health and well-being a greater priority than ever before.

“This General Election is about millions on waiting lists and hundreds of thousands who’ve waited on trolleys under the Tories – only Labour has a plan to rescue our NHS.”

Jonathan Ashworth has promised to end austerity for the NHS. Credit: PA

But Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health, Luciana Berger, said Labour’s announcement “misses the point”.

Ms Berger said: “Labour’s health announcement today completely misses the point. They are ignoring the fact that Brexit is the biggest threat to the NHS – if Labour allow Brexit to happen, they cannot rescue our NHS.

“Brexit has already cost the economy as much as £66 billion. If Corbyn had not tacitly supported Brexit, Labour could have funded their NHS plan more than two times over.

“Only the Liberal Democrats can offer voters a brighter future through stopping Brexit and transforming our NHS and social care services for the future.”

  • Labour's NHS funding plan critiqued by health bodies

However Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said this funding would mean the NHS could “breathe a sigh of relief”, adding: “A 4% increase a year will make a big difference compared to the 1.4% average the NHS has grown used to in recent years.

“It is enough to get most waiting times back on track over time, but tough decisions will still have to be made.

“Although ‘ending privatisation’ will appeal to many, stopping the NHS from funding private procedures will not actually save much money as private companies and NHS trusts get paid the same price per operation.”

Mr Edwards said money is not the be-all and end-all, pointing out that extreme staff shortages are the greatest problem facing the NHS.

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: “The success of any NHS funding policy will rest on the ability to recruit and retain enough workers to staff NHS services.

“Labour’s pledge to reinstate a training bursary for nurses is welcome, although it will be critical to focus on retaining existing NHS staff over the next few years, at a time when many are leaving the service due to the intensity of their workload.”

Mr Murray said that for many UK voters, the distinction between the NHS and social care is unclear, and many are surprised to find that social care is not free at the point of use.

“The current social care system is not fit for purpose and is failing the people who rely on it. A key test for party manifestos will be whether they include plans for fundamental reform of social care funding,” he said.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This rescue plan can’t come soon enough and will give hope to health service employees and patients across the UK. It takes the NHS back to the time before heartless Tory cuts.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said all parties need to commit to investing in nursing, adding: “No matter how people voted in the EU referendum, nobody wants the NHS left open to a carve-up as a result of a post-Brexit trade deal.

“Brexit chaos and rows about deals cannot become a distraction from solving the mounting nurse shortage at home.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare system, said further detail is needed from parties about their plans to tackle the crisis in social care, an issue he said politicians of all parties have “ducked for too long”.

Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The endless billions of pounds that are being pledged to the National Health Service in this election cycle are not costed, not responsible, and crucially are not going to cure the health system’s long-term ails.

“The NHS remains an international laggard in terms of health outcomes and has some of the highest rates of avoidable deaths in western Europe. The structure of the NHS is fundamentally outdated and no amount of money is going to get the health system to function and operate at the level patients deserve.”