Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to cut heart disease, cancer and suicide deaths, in a speech setting out his plans to reform the NHS in England.
He said tackling the three “biggest killers” within a decade would be central to Labour’s NHS mission.
Sir Keir said Labour’s reforms would focus on expanding community care, training more health workers and allowing GP bookings via the NHS app.
A Tory source said cutting waiting lists was a government priority.
They accused Labour of frustrating plans to reform the NHS.
But Labour’s leader said the Conservatives had brought the NHS “to its knees”.
Looking ahead to the next general election, expected next year, Sir Keir said the future of the health service was “on the line”.
“I don’t think the NHS survives five more years of Tory government,” Sir Keir said, in his speech at an ambulance station in Essex.
Labour has named “building an NHS fit for the future” as one of its five national missions, which the party says will form the backbone of its manifesto ahead of the next general election.
In his speech, Sir Keir said deaths from heart disease, cancer and suicide were asking “demanding questions of our healthcare system”, and said a Labour government would aim to reduce deaths from cancer and suicide within five years, and those from heart disease by a quarter over 10 years.
Sir Keir – whose wife, Victoria, is an NHS occupational health worker – said Labour’s new targets for the health service will be part of a wider package of reforms.
But health experts believe there needs to be a big increase in NHS funding to achieve what Labour says it wants to, and costings are largely missing from its plan.
The NHS Confederation says the health service in England is facing a £6-7bn funding gap for 2023/24.
Earlier, when asked how much money Labour would need to reform the NHS, Sir Keir told the BBC his party would fund an increase in health workers by ending certain tax breaks, including the non-dom status.
In terms of the overall NHS budget, Sir Keir said Labour would set out its funding plans ahead of the next general election. “But I’m keen to emphasise, it’s change and reform, not just money,” Sir Keir said.
Labour make the point that, with a general election likely to be a year away at least, it cannot commit to spending pledges given the state of public finances.
But to properly judge Labour’s approach – and that of other parties – the electorate will want to know what the plan is on funding the NHS.
The same goes for social care. While Labour’s plan mentions the need for integration between the NHS and social care, there is little detail about reform of the sector, which encompasses both private care homes and council funded support.
A digital NHS
In his speech, the Labour leader called for three “big shifts” in approach for the NHS: promoting digital methods, community care and preventative measures.
He said speeding up the transition to “a digital NHS” would put the health service on a path to “offering shorter waiting times – better treatment, early diagnosis, and meaningful prevention”.
He said 33 million people downloaded the NHS app during the Covid-19 pandemic, but called that uptake an “extraordinary opportunity” that had been wasted.
Labour says it would turn the NHS app into a one-stop shop for booking GP appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, age-related check-up alerts, and accessing patient records.
To alleviate pressure on hospitals, Sir Keir said he wanted to shift the focus to social care services closer to communities.
A big part of this plan involves expanding the NHS workforce, including training 700 more nurses a year, 5,000 more health visitors, thousands of mental health staff.
Sir Keir’s speech came after Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, highlighted the party’s aim to give people a greater choice over where they receive hospital treatment.
More than 5,500 deaths were registered as suicides in England and Wales in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – around three quarters of which were men. Women under the age of 24 have seen the largest increase of any group since data started being collected in 1981, an ONS study found in 2022.
In his speech, Sir Keir said suicide rates among young people “should haunt us”, adding: “Our mission must be and will be: to get it down.”
The party also wants existing NHS targets to be met – for example the aim for 85% of cancer patients to start treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. This has not been achieved since 2015.
Sir Keir said his party would aim to meet existing targets on hospital treatment within the first term of a Labour government.
Tackling waiting times, more care in the community and greater use of technology are proposals that have been raised by Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems over the last decade or so.
Health Minister Will Quince said: “It’s easy to shout from the sidelines, but the truth is Labour in Wales are currently missing all the targets Sir Keir Starmer has just set out for England.
“Labour have been running the health service in Wales for 25 years and haven’t met these targets. Sir Keir has a record of changing his mind – we can’t trust these will be Labour’s targets next week let alone in five years’ time.
“This Conservative government has already reduced 18-month waits by 91% from their peak, and two-year waits are virtually eliminated.”