- Labour shadow health secretary says party will deliver plans with £37bn funding for NHS over five years
- Jon Ashworth says Labour has not worked out specific cost of taking 1 million people off NHS waiting lists by 2022
- Labour government would set up “NHS Office of Sustainability”
Labour’s shadow health secretary has insisted the party can deliver on its manifesto commitments and said it will inject an extra £7bn into the NHS in the first year of the next parliament.
Jon Ashworth told HSJ the party has not worked out the specific cost of taking 1 million people off NHS waiting lists by 2022, but he is confident this commitment and others in the manifesto can be delivered within the increased funding the party is promising.
Mr Ashworth, who is seeking re-election as MP for Leicester South, also suggested a new body, which would make recommendations to government, could mean a further rise in NHS funding during a Labour led parliament.
In a wide ranging interview, he also addressed plans to “halt and review” sustainability and transformation plans, and “reverse” NHS privatisation.
The pledge to cut NHS waiting lists heads a series of manifesto pledges, which include, but are not limited to: guaranteeing that emergency patients can be been seen within four hours; increased GP funding; reintroducing nursing bursaries; legislating to ensure safe staffing levels; and scrapping the 1 per cent cap on NHS staff pay rises.
Mr Ashworth acknowledged that Labour had not “attached a specific figure” to the waiting list commitment, but said “within the extra £37bn we can deliver on all our manifesto spending commitments”. He added: “I don’t think it’s risky; it’s what the British people want. It’s what they pay their taxes for.”
On funding for the NHS, Mr Ashworth accepted that the £37bn injection of funding was in effect counting the planned year one investment of £7.4bn five times.
“This is a substantial increase in the first year of around £7bn and obviously that is a projection that carries on across the parliament, so it is indeed £37bn,” he said.
He acknowledged that Labour’s spending commitments did not match “the traditional 4 per cent a year” increase the service has received during its lifetime, but “we will set up the NHS Office of Sustainability, modelled on the Office of Budget Responsibility, to make recommendations to government”.
This would provide “absolute transparency in what the NHS needs”, he said. “So throughout the parliament our spending will be reviewed in light of those recommendations and I will, as health secretary, be vociferous in fighting for the NHS in making sure the Treasury and chancellor are well aware of those recommendations.”
On legislating for safe staffing levels – and therefore potentially driving up the size of the NHS workforce – as well as ending the NHS pay freeze, Mr Ashworth said: “We feel we can afford both. Other parts of the UK are moving towards versions of safe staffing and we think it’s time England looked at this as well. NICE will come up with recommendations – it won’t be the politicians coming up with the levels.”
He said the pay freeze had created cost pressures such as higher agency bills and people leaving their profession. He added: “I don’t think it’s fair to keep asking the staff to do more and more on less and less.”