Waiting lists, staff shortages and a social care crisis loom over Labour

Labour has a mammoth task to bring the NHS back to its former glory, ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry explains

The NHS was founded by a Labour government, but 76 years on their own manifesto described it as “broken”.

It is now Labour’s job to fix it. And there is no doubt the new Health Secretary’s in-tray is going to be overflowing.

Health is a devolved issue in the four nations of the UK, we’re focusing on England because Westminster has responsibility for the NHS there.

First up: The waiting list.

Millions of people are waiting for non-urgent operations, things like knee replacements and cataract surgery.

The total backlog is now almost 7.6 million.

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Labour promised to increase healthcare accessibility with 40,000 more appointments offered during evenings and weekends, incentivising staff to work out of regular hours, and utilising private sector resources to expedite patient diagnosis and treatment. It says it’ll be paid for by “cracking down on tax avoidance and non-dom loopholes”. However, the British Medical Association questions how “burned out, demoralised and undervalued staff” can be expected to work extra shifts. And on that subject, another major issue facing the new government: Staff shortages. The NHS in England has more than 100,000 jobs un-filled, that’s almost 7% of the workforce.

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Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing says almost half of its members are currently planning or considering quitting. Labour’s manifesto says it will “deliver the NHS long-term workforce plan”. That was a strategy published last year to ensure the NHS has the right staff, with the right skills to meet demand in the future. But there’s been criticism of the lack of detail on funding and the independent health think tank, Nuffield Trust, says there’s “a deafening silence on how to solve the retention issues”. Next, the struggle to get an appointment with a GP or dentist. In April, more than three million people in England had to wait more than three weeks to see their GP.

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Meanwhile, there’s a crisis in NHS dentistry, with tooth decay the number one reason for hospital admissions for young children. Labour has pledged to end the 8am scramble for GP appointments by training “thousands” more doctors and updating the NHS app so slots are easier to book. It promises an extra 700,000 urgent and emergency dental appointments a year and “golden hellos” of £20,000 for dentistry graduates who work in under-served areas. And it says it'll introduce supervised tooth-brushing schemes for three to five-year-olds.

The British Dental Association reacted by saying: “Labour have pledged to start the ball rolling on fundamental reform of NHS dentistry.”

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Finally, there’s the crisis in social care. An estimated 1.6 million elderly people in England aren’t getting the care they need and there are more than five million unpaid carers in England and Wales. Labour says it’ll create a National Care Service to give a consistency of care across the country and introduce a Fair Pay Agreement in adult social care. But the King’s Fund says: “The Labour manifesto largely dodges the issue of social care reform… best described as a plan to come up with a plan.” And on top of all that, there’s the ongoing industrial action by junior doctors to resolve. The membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, NHS providers, says the government must “make early announcements” on ending the dispute if “the gap between politicians’ bold ambitions for health services and the overstretched NHS workforce’s ability to deliver them is to be bridged”.

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