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Stop doing ‘daft things’ in name of diversity, Wes Streeting tells NHS

Wes Streeting wants to prioritise 'health inequalities'  that affect women and ethnic communities
Wes Streeting wants to prioritise 'health inequalities' that affect women and ethnic communities - Tayfun Salci/Alamy Live News

Wes Streeting has urged the NHS to stop doing “daft things” in the name of diversity as he vowed biological sex would matter under a Labour government.

The shadow health secretary insisted he would prioritise addressing healthcare outcomes that affect women and black and minority ethnic communities instead of “right on” initiatives focused on inclusive language.

Mr Streeting’s remarks are his strongest criticism of NHS chiefs for reducing mentions of the word “women” and gender-specific language from official guidance.

Labour backed down on trans self-ID last July after Sir Keir Starmer had pledged to change the law to allow people to self-declare their gender.

In an interview with the Telegraph politics newsletter, Mr Streeting said: “When people read that the NHS has done daft things, like remove any language referring specifically to women from NHS documents in the name of inclusion … This is clearly crackers and it should not be happening.

“We’ve also got to bear in mind that black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men. And when it comes to a very common condition like endometriosis, women are waiting more than seven years for diagnosis.

“So that’s why I want the diversity and equality focus to be on how we tackle those health inequalities, not whether people are being right on and doing daft things – well-meaning things – in the name of diversity and inclusion.”

At least 19 women’s health pages on the NHS website either fail to mention women at all or only do so in addition to non-gendered language.

‘Biology matters’

Asked whether he believed a transgender woman was a woman, Mr Streeting replied: “I’ve got no problem whatsoever referring to trans women as women, using ‘she/her’ pronouns and treating them with respect.

“We do draw that distinction between women and trans women, and in healthcare and the provision of health care, that is particularly important. Because biology matters, sex matters and, in relation to the information that the NHS provides to patients, we have got to make that distinction between sex and gender.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Streeting said he would take a “very pragmatic” approach to the private sector and would have no shame in using its capacity to bring down waiting lists.

Reaffirming Labour’s support for Rishi Sunak’s planned ban on cigarettes – which would mean the age of sales rising by one year every year, and is opposed by some Tory backbenchers – he promised to “come down like a ton of bricks” on the vaping industry.

‘Agonised’ over assisted dying

And asked whether he would legalise assisted dying for terminally ill patients, Mr Streeting said it was one of the “rare examples” of a political issue “where I have agonised, and continue to agonise, over what the right thing to do is”.

“Having watched two grandmothers die slowly and painfully from cancer, there were times where I just wanted the pain to end… But I think this is also riddled with enormous risks of coercion, and of people feeling compelled to take their life.

“And that’s before we even get to the religious, philosophical issues. But this is a debate I think that is worth having now, and should it ever come forward again, there will be a free vote on the issue because it’s a matter of conscience.”