Starmer Says Labour to End ‘Dangerous’ Hospital Waits If Elected

(Bloomberg) -- UK opposition leader Keir Starmer will set out how a Labour government would end “dangerous” waiting times in hospital emergency departments, part of his long-awaited blueprint for the National Health Service.

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Some 23,316 people died in Accident and Emergency units in England in 2022, the Labour Party said in a statement late Friday, citing data from NHS trusts obtained via Freedom of Information requests. That’s up by more than 4,000 from the year before, and by more than 5,800 compared to 2019.

Labour linked the increase in deaths to a rise in waiting times: over 113,000 people waited more than the target four hours to be admitted or discharged in April, while 27,000 were forced to wait more than 12 hours, according to the latest NHS data.

The health service is under intense pressure as the UK wrestles with how to treat its growing and aging population, with campaigners pointing to a chronic lack of beds, staff and funding that have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. It marks its 75th anniversary in July, spurring calls for a rethink.

Read More: Britain’s Cherished NHS Wrestles With Its ‘Reform or Die’ Moment

Starmer sees the NHS’s struggles as a political weak point for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives ahead of a general election next year. The Tories have been in power since 2010 and the party’s political opponents accuse it of running down the health service over more than a decade.

The Labour leader will make a wide-ranging speech on Monday setting out his mission to build an NHS “fit for the future,” according to an emailed statement from his office. As well as cutting A&E waits, Starmer will promise to reduce the burden on hospitals by ensuring the NHS provides more community care and prevents ill health in the first place.

Labour also plans to train 7,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses a year paid for by axing so-called non-dom status, which allows British residents who have their permanent home outside the UK to avoid paying taxes on overseas earnings. That is also a dividing issue with Sunak’s Tories.

“People turning to the NHS in an emergency should know they will be seen and treated before it’s too late,” Labour’s health spokesman Wes Streeting said in the statement. “The Conservatives’ failure over 13 years to properly staff or reform the NHS has a cost in lives.”

NHS reform is one of five “missions” Starmer has pledged to focus on if he becomes prime minister. The others are making streets safe, breaking down the barriers to opportunity, making the UK a clean energy “superpower,” and securing the highest sustained growth among Group of Seven nations.

The Conservatives have also pledged reform of the health service, and a strategy to recruit more doctors and nurses is expected within months. This month the government pledged to overhaul primary care services so patients can more easily see their local doctor.

“We are delivering a record number of tests, speeding up discharge from hospitals, and cutting waiting lists,” Health Minister Maria Caulfield said in an emailed statement.

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