Starmer commits to erasing 7.7m NHS waiting list in four years

Sir Keir Starmer said it was a ‘huge ambition’ of Labour’s to erase England’s NHS waiting list in one term (Peter Byrne/PA)
Sir Keir Starmer said it was a ‘huge ambition’ of Labour’s to erase England’s NHS waiting list in one term (Peter Byrne/PA)

Labour would look to eradicate the NHS waiting list in England in a single term, party leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Opposition leader said the “plan is there” to cut the numbers waiting for treatment by two million per year, potentially resetting it by the time a four-year term in Downing Street is over.

Some 7.7 million people are currently on waiting lists for treatment in England, the highest since records began.

Sir Keir set out in his speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool on Tuesday how the “biggest challenge” for the NHS was to cut waiting lists and vowed to get the health service “working round the clock” to clear the backlog.

Labour, in a commitment made earlier this year, has said it plans to meet the target of 92% of patients starting treatment within 18 weeks from referral within the first term of a Sir Keir premiership, should the party win power at an election expected next year.

Asked in an interview with ITV News on Wednesday whether he could commit to eliminating waiting lists within the course of a Labour government, he replied: “That is our ambition and that is why we’ve said two million a year.

“That is a huge ambition — 40,000 a week.

“The money is there, the plan is there and we need to drive those waiting lists down.”

Labour unveiled its NHS staff overtime plan ahead of its autumn conference, a blueprint it says could create an extra two million operations, scans and appointments in the first year.

The party also vowed to provide extra scanners for the health service and bring in dental reforms if it wins the next general election.

The policies would be backed by £1.6 billion, with £1.1 billion of that footing the overtime bill.

During his speech, Sir Keir promised to end non-dom tax status to funnel money into the health service as part of a bid to reduce the number of patients waiting for treatment.

Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer conducted interviews on Wednesday after his conference speech the day before (Peter Byrne/PA)

He said it would help pay for staff overtime and fund more operations, appointments and diagnostic tests, pledging that people would be “seen more quickly” if his party was in charge.

Told in his interview with ITV that the proposed change to non-dom status would bring in 1% of the NHS’ current budget, Sir Keir said reforms would be needed as well as extra investment.

He said reducing the waiting list was “crucially important” because it was “causing the NHS to overheat” and was a “big drag on our economy”.

He continued: “But, yes, we do need reform as well and that is why after saying we’re going to spend this money, I also said, ‘but there is the hard road of reform’.

“We need to reform the NHS. It has been a sickness service for the last 75 years.

“Because of the nature of society, it needs now to be a preventative service.”

Sir Keir also gave more details about his plans to meet his commitment of building 1.5 million homes.

The plan would replicate the policy of Clement Attlee’s government that built 10 new towns during the 1950s.

Speaking to ITV, Sir Keir said he envisaged “certainly more than … four” new towns being built as part of his proposals.

He declined, however, to say whether the new communities would be focused in the north or south of England, saying that a bidding process would be installed to “ensure that we get the right towns in the right places”.

The first wave of new towns, built between 1946 and 1950 to alleviate post-war housing shortages in London, included Stevenage, Crawley and Harlow.

Two new towns in Scotland – East Kilbride and Glenrothes – and Cwmbran in Wales were also established during the 1940s.

Subsequent Conservative and Labour governments have built two more waves of new towns in England.

Sir Keir has said he plans to get “tough” with Labour MPs that fail to back his housing ambitions.

Having promised to “bulldoze” his way to a new Britain, he said he would stand up to so-called “Nimbys” in his own party in order to achieve his goal.

Asked by the BBC if he regarded himself as a “Yimby” — a “Yes, in my backyard” person — Sir Keir said: “I am, yes.

“I think that it is very important that we build the homes that we need for the future, hugely important for the aspiration of young people desperately wanting to get on the housing ladder — a massive failure for the last 13 years.”