Labour wants NHS to tackle heart and suicide deathson May 22, 2023 at 10:07 am

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Sir Keir Starmer says if elected he would aim to cut suicide, heart disease and stroke deaths.

Labour leader Sir Keir StarmerImage source, PA Media

Sir Keir Starmer has proposed introducing new NHS targets on cutting deaths in England from heart disease, strokes and suicide.

A Labour government would aim to reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes by a quarter over 10 years and see suicide figures decline within five.

The Labour leader has outlined his plan to reform the NHS in a speech.

The Tories accused Labour of seeking to frustrate its own reforms by repeatedly voting against them.

In his speech, Sir Keir said Labour’s new targets for the health service will be part of a wider package of reforms if it is elected, with a focus on modernisation, hitting existing cancer targets, and cutting waiting lists.

“I don’t think the NHS survives five more years of Tory government,” Sir Keir said.

The NHS Confederation says the health service in England is facing a £6-7bn funding gap for 2023/24.

Earlier, when asked how much money Labour would need to reform the NHS, Sir Keir told the BBC his party would fund an increase in health workers by ending certain tax breaks, including the non-dom status.

In terms of the overall NHS budget, Sir Keir said Labour would set out its funding plans ahead of the next general election. “But I’m keen to emphasise, it’s change and reform, not just money,” Sir Keir said.

Sir Keir also said Labour would ban commercials for junk and sugary food before 21:00, as well as adverts for vaping products.

“The government has toyed with this and has backed off. I think this is the wrong thing as we have to protect the health of our young people and that requires us to put in place pretty solid bans on advertising to children and that’s what we would be prepared to do,” he said.

Sir Keir called for three “big shifts” in approach for the NHS: promoting digital methods, community care and preventative measures.

He argued that the health service’s problems cannot be solved with extra funding alone, and call for “serious, deep, long-term changes”.

Suicide deaths

More than 5,500 deaths were registered as suicides in England and Wales in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – around three quarters of which were men. Women under the age of 24 have seen the largest increase of any group since data started being collected in 1981, an ONS study found in 2022.

Sir Keir told an audience in the east of England that suicide rates among young people “should haunt us”, adding: “Our mission must be and will be: to get it down.”

The party also wants existing NHS targets to be tackled – for example the aim for 85% of cancer patients to start treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. This has not been achieved since 2015.

Sir Keir said his party would aim to meet existing targets on hospital treatment within the first term of a Labour government, but admitted the reforms “will take a bit longer”.

Tackling waiting times, more care in the community and greater use of technology are proposals that have been raised by Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems over the last decade or so.

A Conservative Party source said cutting waiting times is one of the government’s top five priorities, and that there had already been major progress on reducing very long waits.

They accused Labour of voting “against Conservative plans for more doctors” and said it was prioritising the hiring of thousands 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,” they added.

Sir Keir’s speech on Monday is his third on Labour’s five “missions” for government if it wins power, the areas which are likely to form the backbone of the party’s manifesto at the next general election.

It came after Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, highlighted the party’s aim to give people a greater choice over where they receive hospital treatment.

He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that Labour’s plan for regional waiting lists would give patients more flexibility to receive care elsewhere if queues are shorter in another area.

  • If you’ve been affected by self-harm or emotional distress, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line
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