Starmer pledges to fix 'broken' NHS ahead of pay talks

The prime minister said work will start “straight away” to fix the NHS after Labour’s general election victory.

Sir Keir Starmer told a news conference on Saturday that the party had spoken to two NHS trusts to discuss how the party can deliver its election pledge of an additional 40,000 appointments.

Responding to new Health Secretary Wes Streeting describing the NHS as “broken”, Sir Keir refused to lay blame at the door of NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard, saying the Conservatives’ “failure of leadership” was responsible.

It comes after Mr Streeting said he spoke with the British Medical Association (BMA) on Friday ahead of fresh talks in an attempt to end the long-running pay dispute with junior doctors.

Sir Keir said his new government would approach the state of the health service with candour.

“Obviously my wife works in the NHS, as I may have mentioned, but it’s tough because if you work in the NHS, you’re putting in a huge amount in difficult circumstances. It’s unrelenting,” he said.

He said Labour has been in talks with St Thomas’s Hospital in London and a hospital in Leeds about rolling out evening and weekend schemes to cater for the additional appointments.

The prime minster was also upfront about trying to end strike action by junior doctors, but said he could not meet their demands.

The BMA has repeatedly asked for a 35% rise, to make up for what it says are 15 years of below-inflation pay rises.

“We can’t afford that,” he told broadcasters at a press conference.

“I’m not in a position to say how those negotiations will go but I am in a position to say that there will be grown-up politics where we actually resolve issues and get our NHS back working,” he added.

Mr Streeting said Labour, which is in power for the first time in 14 years, had promised to begin negotiations as a matter of urgency “and that is what we are doing”.

“From today, the policy of this department is that the NHS is broken,” he said.

His comments came shortly after Sir Keir appointed Labour MPs to key cabinet positions as the party secured a landslide election victory.

Mr Streeting, who held his seat by a 528-vote margin, said the new government would be “honest” about the challenges it faced.

He added: “When we said that patients are being failed on a daily basis, it wasn’t political rhetoric, but the daily reality faced by millions.

“Previous governments have not been willing to admit these simple facts. But in order to cure an illness, you must first diagnose it.”

In its manifesto, Labour promised to deliver an extra 40,000 operations, scans and appointments a week in England – two million a year – by introducing more weekend services, as well as turning to the private sector.

It said the money would come from cracking down on non-dom tax arrangements.

The BBC has contacted the Conservatives for comment.

Junior doctors in England last went on strike at the end of June in what was the 11th walkout in their long-running pay dispute.

Mr Streeting previously said he would not meet the 35% pay rise demanded by the BMA. But he said there was “space for a discussion” on pay, as well as negotiations on how to improve working conditions for medics in training.

Junior doctors make up nearly half the medical workforce in the NHS. Two-thirds of them are BMA members.


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