Labour’s too nostalgic about NHS

IS Wes Streeting ready to be the most unpopular man in the Labour Party?

Because the Shadow Health Secretary is on a collision course with the unions, and massive NHS bureaucracy, with his stark warning of “get rid of stupid stuff”.

Labour’s too nostalgic about NHS – I’ll listen to patients and reform it, says Wes StreetingCredit: LNP
The Labour Party often claim to be the party of the NHSCredit: PA

With Labour’s constant boast to be the party of the NHS, he knows he is going to take fire if, as all the polls indicate, he will be in charge of its 1.3million staff by the end of the year.

“Every time I make a reform argument, there are howls of outrage from online activists,” he told The Sun on the eve of a major speech declaring a war against NHS waste.

“But one of the reasons I’m passionate about reform arguments and making the case is because I want staff who’ve told me the NHS needs to change, and patients who’ve told me the NHS needs to change, to know someone’s listened.

“You can’t just keep on pouring ever-increasing amounts of money into a leaky bucket, you’ve got to deal with the bucket itself.”

He is scathing about previous efforts since Labour lost office in 2010 to get real on the health service, a body which will cost the taxpayer £187billion this year.

“I think there are times when the Labour Party is led too heavily into nostalgia,” he said.

“It would be the easiest thing in the world to go into the next general election just saying ‘worst crisis in NHS history’, ‘you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS’, ‘you’ve got 24 hours to save the NHS’ and, by the way, here’s a nice sepia film of Nye Bevan.”

When it was pointed out this is exactly what the Labour Party does every election, Mr Streeting is adamant: “Well, we haven’t done very well in the last four, so I’m not planning to repeat those mistakes.”

Fresh from a tour of Australia and the Far East looking at how other healthcare systems work, he says there are more ways to get improvement than simply shouting about privatisation.

He explained: “In Singapore General Hospital they had this initiative called Get Rid Of Stupid Stuff.

“And there was a culture of basically any member of staff, where they see things not running well or where they could see scope for improvement, they were actively encouraged to put their ideas in and they would be recognised and rewarded for doing that.

“We’ve got to improve the productivity of the NHS.

“That’s not the fault of the staff because, actually, it’s the staff who are blowing the whistle on this and complaining very loudly. It’s the way the bureaucracy is.”

So what’s his plan?

Especially at a time when Mr Streeting is the first to admit more money is not the answer — which is lucky, because there’s none left.

“It’s not right to keep on asking people on low to middle incomes to pay high taxes when they’re struggling,” he said.

“And it’s not right that they don’t get much for the money they are putting in.”

Mr Streeting has identified more than £10billion in waste — a drop in the ocean compared to the whole NHS budgetCredit: AFP
Wes Streeting visited Singapore General Hospital and was impressed by their initiatives to improve productivityCredit: Instagram

Mr Streeting has identified more than £10billion in waste — a drop in the ocean compared to the whole NHS budget — but clamping down on that will not be enough.

He continued: “What we have done is identify best practice in the NHS that is proven to work, proven to deliver better outcomes for patients and proven to deliver better value for taxpayers’ money.

“The challenge I posed the system is, ‘If you can do it in one hospital, why aren’t you doing it in all hospitals?’”

He believes a better-joined-up system, sharing best practice, could unlock change quickly, quipping: “The NHS has more pilots than the RAF.”

In a health service that still uses pagers and, as Mr Streeting will blast today, still spends £200million a year on postage a decade after vowing to go postless, he believes tech is crucial.

He wants the NHS to run more like private companies, giving users easy options at their fingertips.

He added: “This morning DPD text-messaged to tell me this parcel was being delivered, they gave my slot and gave me the opportunity to change it.

“Why is it that with the NHS you can’t turn around and say, ‘Actually, that isn’t convenient, I need to change it?’ Or you think, ‘Oh, s***, I forgot about that’.

“It’s just those basic things, that basic organisation of the system. And this is not revolutionary technology.”

Fit for future life

He even reckons his local barber shop is more tech savvy than the NHS.

“I got a text message telling me: ‘We tried to reach you on the phone to confirm your haircut tomorrow. If you don’t text back to reply yes by 5pm, we’ll be cancelling your appointment.’ Why can’t the NHS do that?”

So what does success look like, a year into a potential Labour government?

Will he really be able to do all this without putting up taxes or pouring more money into the system?

“I’ll come back and tell Sun readers that by the end of the first term,” he said.

“I’m not messianic enough to believe that sitting behind one desk at the Department of Health is going to solve all the nation’s problems.

“It is about having the right plan and the right team, and mobilising people with the right support, to get the NHS back on its feet, fit for future life. That’s my mission.”

Streeting reckons his local barber shop is more tech savvy than the NHSCredit: Mirrorpix

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