Keir Starmer unveils Labour health targets and pledges to get the NHS 'off its knees'
As Labour proposes reforms to the NHS, junior doctors in England have announced a fresh 72-hour strikes after years of "pay erosion", ITV News' Shehab Khan reports
Sir Keir Starmer has pledged Labour would make the NHS “fit for the future” with new targets for ambulance response times, cancer diagnosis, suicide rates and cutting deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Delivering a speech on Monday, he echoed Nye Bevan, the Labour minister who helped found the health service, in describing illness as “neither an indulgence” to be paid for, “nor an offence” to be penalised.
The Labour leader claimed the NHS will not survive another five years under the Tories, whom he accused of not believing in their “heart of hearts” in its core promise.
He emphasised an urgent need to address what he described as a rising rate of suicides, however fact checkers have suggested the truth could be more complex.
Sir Keir's proposals will appear all the more relevant, as today also marked the announcement of a 72-hour walkout by junior doctors - fed up of what they described as years of pay erosion.
Watch ITV News political correspondent Shehab Khan's report
Giving the speech in Braintree in Essex, Sir Keir confirmed a number of key Labour commitments which include:
– Reducing cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke by 75% within a decade
– Ensuring 75% of all cancer is diagnosed at stages one and two, making it easier to treat
– Ambulances to respond to cardiac arrest callouts within seven minutes
– A return to the target of 95% of all A&E patients being seen within four hours
The four-hour A&E target, which has not been achieved nationally since 2015, and an improvement in ambulance response times would be hit by 2030, he said.
He said “We will fix the NHS. We will reform the NHS. Old values, new opportunities …“An NHS, not just off its knees, but running confidently towards the future.”
Sir Keir promised the audience a Labour government “will deliver an NHS that is there when you need it”, adding: “No backsliding, no excuses. We will meet these standards again. We will get the NHS back on its feet."
Sir Keir also used the speech to propose a ban on advertising junk food to children, which he has said will target both TV and social media, and measures to prevent suicide.
He has proposed a shift towards more community-based mental healthcare to reduce the burden on hospitals, with a pledge to recruit 8,500 new staff and ensure treatment is available in less than a month.
Data released earlier this month showed a raft of NHS targets are currently being missed, including a key 62-day cancer target.
The Government and NHS England set the ambition of returning the number of patients waiting more than 62 days to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023.
However, the data showed the number of patients waiting longer than 62 days since an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer stood at 19,248 in the week ending April 2.
The average weekly figure for February 2020 was 13,463.
The Government has also missed a target of eliminating 18-month waits for planned NHS care such as knee and hip replacements, though numbers have fallen dramatically in recent months.
The Labour leader said in his speech a “cruel lottery of who lives and who dies” exists in Britain despite the NHS being founded to offer care for all those who need it.
He told the audience: “(The Tories) voted against the NHS right at the start – more than once.
“While they have come to accept it as part of the political furniture, in their heart of hearts they don’t believe in its central promise.
"For them it’s a cost, not a cause, and from that mindset springs the well of their neglect.
“The poverty of their ambition, the sticking plaster, crisis management impulse that never sees the opportunities, never addresses the long-term.
"The Labour leader ruled out imposing a salt and sugar tax during the cost-of-living crisis, but refused to be drawn on whether he would consider a levy in the event that economic pressures ease."
He said: “The focus we put today is very clearly on advertising, this is something the Government toyed with and then moved away from.
“I think that showed a fundamental weakness in their approach – an unseriousness about tackling the issues that really matter.
“What we don’t want to do in a cost-of-living crisis is add to the burden of food costs.”
Labour’s pledge will be for suicide rates to start declining within five years.
“Suicide is the biggest killer of young lives in this country… And the rate is going up. Our mission must be, and will be, to get it down,” the opposition leader said.
However, analysis of his speech by independent fact checkers Full Fact presents a rather more complicated picture.
It isn't clear exactly what Sir Keir's speech was based on, but a Labour party press release cited coroners' statistics published earlier this month showing that 2022 saw the highest number of suicides recorded in England and Wales.
With that comes some major caveats, however, as the figures only show when suicides were recorded by a coroner - not when they actually occurred.
The statistics warn that the rise during 2022 may in part be due to a "backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic".
They also mention a change of the rules on recording suicide in 2018, adding that the rate for last year “may be a consequence of the change in the standard of proof”.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on suicides only goes up to 2021, showing that the rate for England and Wales fell slightly in that year and has been broadly flat since 2013.
Responding to Sir Keir's speech, the Conservative Party highlighted that cutting NHS waiting lists was one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top five priorities for the country.
Hitting back with counter-accusations about Labour's own record on the NHS, health minister Will Quince said: “It’s easy to shout from the sidelines, but the truth is Labour in Wales are currently missing all the targets Sir Keir Starmer has just set out for England.
"Labour have been running the health service in Wales for 25 years and haven’t met these targets.
"Sir Keir has a record of changing his mind – we can’t trust these will be Labour’s targets next week let alone in five years’ time.
“This Conservative Government has already reduced 18-month waits by 91% from their peak, and two-year waits are virtually eliminated.”
For help and support if you or someone you know is suffering from emotional distress, visit:
CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat. It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP). Call 0800 585858 (daily, 5pm to midnight).
Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues. It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Call 0300 123 3393 or email email@example.com
PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by breaking down the stigma around suicide and equipping people with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour. It provides practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice over telephone, text and email service which is staffed by trained professionals. Call 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline) or email email@example.com
YoungMinds is a resource with information on child and adolescent mental health, but also offers services for parents and professionals. It is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and wants to make sure all young people can get the mental health support they need when they need it. Visit youngminds.org.uk
Shout is a 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone struggling to cope and in need of immediate help. Text SHOUT to 85258.
SOS Silence of Suicide provides a listening service for children and adults who need emotional support, understanding, compassion & kindness. Phone 0300 102 0505
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...