Wes Streeting says paying for private treatment is ‘Tory health tax’

Wes Streeting: 'Rishi Sunak's claim that the NHS is turning a corner has been blown out of the water'
Wes Streeting: 'Rishi Sunak's claim that the NHS is turning a corner has been blown out of the water' - Bloomberg/Hollie Adams

Labour’s health chief has described paying for private healthcare as a “Tory health tax”.

In a statement, Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, repeated a claim his party made earlier – that NHS waiting lists would hit 10 million under the Conservatives – something that Max Warner, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) economist, said was “highly unlikely” in his May analysis.

The overall NHS waiting list climbed to an estimated 7.57 million treatments at the end of April, affecting 6.33 million patients, according to NHS England figures released on Thursday.

This is up slightly from 7.54 million treatments and 6.29 million patients at the end of March.

It comes after a row over the role of the private sector in the NHS, with Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, telling Angela Rayner, Labour deputy leader, during an ITV debate on Thursday that “it pains so many people to see Labour’s Wes Streeting talking so warmly about bringing the private sector into the NHS”.

‘Blown out of the water’

Mr Streeting said in a statement on Friday: “Rishi Sunak’s claim that the NHS is turning a corner has been blown out of the water. The truth is that waiting lists are 350,000 longer than when he became Prime Minister and they’re on the rise again.

“If the Conservatives are given another five years in charge, waiting lists will hit 10 million, and more and more patients will be forced to pay to go private to get treated on time.

“That’s the choice for patients under the Tories: pain or private? Patients face double taxation on health: they pay their taxes, and then pay the Tory health tax if they want to be treated on time.

“Labour will never leave ordinary people waiting longer while there is capacity to treat them. The NHS will buy spare capacity in the private sector and pay for patients to be treated faster, free at the point of use.”

Labour has pledged to introduce 40,000 extra appointments a week at evenings and weekends, double the number of NHS scanners and the “biggest expansion of NHS staff in history”.

The party has also pledged to use “spare capacity in the private sector to get patients seen faster”, with a Labour government effectively buying care on behalf of patients.

The IFS has looked at Labour’s plans for health and social care in England.

‘Delivering would be expensive’

Mr Warner said: “The Labour Party manifesto commits to improving NHS performance substantially, with a focus on eliminating elective waiting times above 18 weeks by the end of the next parliament.

“If achieved, this would represent a major improvement, undoing nearly a decade of worsening in NHS waiting times in just five years.

“The manifesto also promises to deliver the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and the New Hospitals Programme.

“But delivering on all these promises would be expensive: it would almost certainly require real-terms funding growth upwards of 3 per cent per year.

“Beyond some small amounts of ‘additional’ funding, the Labour manifesto provides no detail about the overall funding the NHS will receive in the next parliament.”

During ITV’s seven-way debate on Thursday, Penny Mordaunt, Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, urged her rivals to keep “political dogma out of the public sector and public services” and said: “Most of the public don’t care what colour the cat is, they just want some mice caught.”

‘Limited private capacity’

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: “To be honest, where there is capacity in the private sector, we could be using some of it in order to bring down waiting lists, but let’s not kid ourselves, there is very limited capacity in the private sector and we shouldn’t be using it if it guts more capacity from the NHS.”

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “In Wales, we’ve had Labour health ministers who’ve mismanaged health for 25 years. At the heart of the future of the NHS has got to be sustainability – sustainability of funding, which is why I want to see fair funding for Wales – but it’s also got to be the sustainability of the workforce.”

He added: “... we absolutely have to pledge to keep the NHS free at the point of need, and also to keep privatisation out of the NHS and it pains so many people to see Labour’s Wes Streeting talking so warmly about bringing the private sector into the NHS.”