Labour's NHS plan is promising but more detail is needed, says BMA

by BMA media team

BMA press release.

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 23 May 2023
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Responding to an announcement by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the party’s NHS policy today, Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, said:

“The NHS and the health of our nation have been allowed to deteriorate and must therefore not just be a continued priority for the present Government, but also a key focus for any future Government. So we welcome the commitment from Sir Keir Starmer that a Labour government, if elected, would bring our health service back to being fit for the future by recognising just what the NHS is capable of, which the current Government has failed to realise. With patients and staff continuing to suffer, we need urgent action to help us get out of this mess.

“The focus on prevention is a big positive, and it is good to see a commitment to reverse the worrying trend of deaths from suicides, heart disease, strokes and cancers in this country. Labour’s focus on shifting care from sickness to prevention could help to turn things around, particularly in its plan to increase access to mental health services, and Sir Keir correctly highlighted that this would only be achievable through interventions that deal with poverty and inequalities to accessing health and social care. It was refreshing to hear Sir Keir acknowledge this and set out plans to strengthen regulation on junk food marketing to children – something the present Government have rowed back on.

“But Labour needs to go further in at least three key areas if they are to have a lasting impact on the nation’s health: Tightening regulations of the smoking, alcohol and gambling industries, alongside junk food; Restoring funding for public health services, which have been cut by 25% since 2015; and establish a cross-departmental goal to improve health and tackling health inequalities, extending beyond the NHS alone, alongside a strategy for action - the last time Labour did this, it made a difference. For suicide prevention for example, this extends far beyond the provision of mental health care services – which we know are severely lacking – to addressing the root causes of people’s mental health struggles, including the shameful levels of poverty in this country.

"Labour rightly recognises general practice as the 'bedrock of the NHS', and Sir Keir says he wants to 'bring back the family doctor' to ensure continuity of care for those with long-term conditions. The partnership model is so valuable because it is centred around this continuity of care, and Labour needs to give this model the backing and support it needs to thrive – rather than dismissing it entirely and trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Managing the unprecedented strain on NHS services will only happen when there is an effective workforce strategy in place, with a proper implementation plan and funding commitments, and action on reversing years of real-terms pay cuts and worsening working conditions for staff. The return of performance target times is all well and good, but we need to see more planned investment in our workforce – and across all parts of the medical training pipeline and infrastructure -  for this to actually work. Targets can be counterproductive if staff work to game the system instead of actually providing better care, so this can only be properly achieved with the right support and planning.

“Although Sir Keir hinted at closing tax loopholes and removing non-dom status, the big question that remains is how Labour will fund and implement their plan, and there is little regarding how Labour will recruit and retain staff amidst a spiralling workforce crisis, despite committing to increasing medical school places, a policy which will take years to boost doctor numbers (and only with enough investment and support for teaching, supervision and physical space).  As always, greater detail is needed on addressing this fundamental question. We look forward to working with the Labour Party on their approach to make the NHS fit for the future”.

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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