Keir Starmer's struggled for visionary policy - a distinct approach to the NHS could change that

If the polls stay as they are, Sir Keir Starmer looks the most likely occupant of Downing Street after the next general election.

As part of his pitch to voters he has laid out five missions, the last of which is on health - and the Labour leader will launch that this week, speaking in Braintree, Essex.

The tag line is Labour will "build an NHS fit for the future" and there will be a new approach alongside new targets.

The focus will be on NHS reforms and prevention via new tech, public health measures and mental health support.

Sir Keir's address will be formed around how to tackle the country's biggest killers - cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and suicide.

Among the ambitions Sir Keir is expected to set out for a Labour government is that rising deaths from suicide - the biggest cause of death in men in England under the age of 50 - will be reversed, so they are declining in five years.

He will also pledge to reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by a quarter within 10 years, and vow that all NHS cancer targets will be hit, so patients are seen on time and diagnosed early.

Suicide figures should 'haunt us'

Sir Keir is expected to say that the statistics around suicide should "haunt us" after coroner data published earlier this month revealed 2022 saw the highest number ever recorded in England and Wales.

He will also touch upon the overall crisis facing the NHS, which is suffering from the lowest level of patient satisfaction and record numbers of people on waiting lists.

Sir Keir will promise Labour will get the NHS "back on its feet" by hitting the health service's targets within five years, achieved via reforms and staff training.

A Conservative Party source said in response: "Cutting waiting lists is one of our top five priorities.

"We have already seen 18-month waits down 91% from the peak and two year waits virtually eliminated.

"If Labour wanted to address waiting lists, they shouldn't have voted against Conservative plans for more doctors.

"If Labour wanted to address NHS efficiency, they shouldn't be setting out a plan for thousands of more NHS managers.

"If Labour were serious about NHS reform they would have taken action where they are in power in Wales where waiting lists are higher."

There are also obstacles on the horizon for Labour, with insiders admitting they will have a fight on their hands if they are going to impose the sweeping changes they see as necessary.

And there are some glaring omissions. The party won't make any specific pledges on pay or get into how they would resolve some of the ongoing industrial disputes that are paralysing parts of the health service.

Neither will there be a grand plan for improving social care - something promised by successive Conservative leaders and seen by many as central to securing the NHS's future.

Finally - to use their own words - Labour won't be opening the "big government cheque book".

This plan is definitely not, they say, to just pour cash in at the top and wait for it to trickle down.

The challenge is to take health and make it their own, convincing voters they have a distinct vision beyond just being less chaotic than the Conservatives.

They've struggled in other policy areas, but with growing confidence following the local elections they hope to be more successful in this natural Labour territory.