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Britain's Labour aims to save billions of pounds with planned health reforms

FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Leeds

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's main opposition Labour Party said it would aim to save 10 billion pounds ($12.71 billion) by cutting waste and reforming the health service if in power, saying this could free up cash to spend on frontline care.

The state-run National Health Service (NHS) emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in crisis, crippled by long waiting lists, ambulance delays and industrial action by staff over pay.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had pledged to cut waiting lists as one of his five priorities, but has blamed the strikes for missing that aim.

He expects to hold an election later this year, and Labour leads Sunak's governing Conservatives by around 20 points in opinion polls.

Labour's plans to reform rather than simply spend more on the NHS, a cherished national institution founded by a Labour government after World War Two, has prompted criticism from some unions.

But Labour health spokesperson Wes Streeting, who has vowed to face down those hostile to his reform agenda, said the plan would ultimately result in more money for frontline services.

"After 14 years of Conservative neglect of the NHS, we are paying more but getting less," he will say in a speech on Tuesday, according to extracts released by Labour.

"I am focusing on waste because I want to give the public hope that the NHS can be saved. The money that is wasted today can be used to get the NHS back on its feet tomorrow. Only Labour has a plan to reform the NHS."

Labour said it could save 3.5 billion pounds by ending payments to recruitment agencies to cover staffing shortfalls, as well as a further 1.7 billion pounds by freeing up hospital beds currently occupied by patients who can't be sent home due to a lack of available care in the community.

However, the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, cautioned against budget cuts to a service that is already struggling due to underinvestment.

"Capital budgets are already being raided to plug rising deficits in the day-to-day NHS budget caused by strikes and other cost pressures," the NHS Confederation said, adding that the next government needed to boost capital funding to help address the backlog.

Labour has previously set out plans to integrate health and social care, and recruit and retain more carers.

The British government has responsibility for the NHS only in England as health is a devolved policy area in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

($1 = 0.7868 pounds)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Gareth Jones)