Streeting Pitches Labour’s NHS Reform Plan as Boost to Growth

(Bloomberg) -- Health Secretary Wes Streeting said the Labour government’s plan to overhaul the state-run National Health Service will be key to delivering its core pledge to boosting UK economic growth.

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Reducing patient waiting lists will cut incapacity benefit costs, Streeting said at a conference organized by the Tony Blair Institute in London on Tuesday, and end a “begging bowl culture” where his health department’s only interaction with the Treasury is to ask for money.

“This is no longer just a public service, this is an economic growth department,” he said. “We will help you achieve your mission for growth.”

More than 6.3 million patients are on a treatment waiting list, according to figures from NHS England, while the Resolution Foundation estimates that 2.8 million adults are economically inactive due to illness. This has contributed to a large increase in spending on disability and incapacity benefits for adults.

The malfunctioning NHS contributed to the Conservatives’ historic election defeat last week after former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed with his core promise to bring waiting lists down.

Blair earlier said a focus on prevention of key detectable or curable conditions — including obesity and cardiovascular disease — would deliver a “triple dividend” of healthier people, healthier economy, healthier public finances.

Streeting’s views on how to fix the NHS, including using private health hospitals to bring down waiting lists, are controversial in some parts of the public service. But on Tuesday he argued that only the Labour Party — which founded the NHS after World War II — has the credibility to reform it.

Streeting also said he is “optimistic” about talks with junior doctors to end their industrial action.

“Sometimes if you love someone you have to force them to change,” Streeting said about NHS reform. “There is time for tough love.”

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