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Labour launches £26bn ‘rescue plan’ for NHS

BMA welcomes promises on GP training, extra nurses and premises – but laments lack of pensions reform

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Labour Party this morning announced a real-terms increase of £26bn for day-to-day NHS spending from 2018-19 to 2023-24, in its "rescue plan" for the NHS published ahead of the general election on 12 December. The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed the recognition of "the need for increased and sustained investment" in the NHS, including promises on funding for GP training, increased nurse numbers and tackling the "woeful state" of NHS buildings and GP premises, but it lamented the lack of any pledges on pensions reform.

Labour promised an annual average 4.3% funding increase for health spending over the next four years, increasing the total Department of Health and Social Care budget to £178bn in 2023-24. It pledged to ensure quality care across both physical and mental health, restore constitutional standards on waiting times and access, improve A&E performance and “radically improve cancer survival rates”, as well as free prescriptions and car parking. It said its NHS rescue plan will: 

  • Expand GP training places to 5,000 to create 27 million more appointments with GPs.
  • Invest £1bn in restoring a training bursary for nurses and continuing professional development to help recruit 24,000 extra nurses as well as extra midwives and allied health professionals.
  • Invest in the public health nurse workforce, delivering an extra 4,800 health visitors and school nurses.
  • Invest an extra £2.5bn to overhaul the primary care estate so that GPs can deliver better local care in their communities.
  • Increase NHS capital budgets by £15bn over a Parliament to rebuild NHS hospitals and community facilities and clear the maintenance backlog.
  • Invest in mental health support for NHS staff.
  • Deliver a £1bn increase in the annual public health budget including an extra £100m for addiction services, an extra £100m for obesity services, an extra £100m for public mental health services, £75m for sexual health services, an extra £75m for 0-5 services and more investment in smoking cessation services.
  • Provide a new £2bn strategic mental health infrastructure fund to abolish dormitory wards and make every inpatient setting safe for patients, invest in more beds to end out-of-area placements and roll out a fleet of crisis ambulances.
  • Deliver a Green New Deal so every trust can reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Provide an extra £1.5bn to increase the numbers of CT and MRI scanners to radically improve diagnostic capacity and improve cancer outcomes.
  • Invest further in digital, AI and to ensure transformation of services for the future.

The BMA welcomed Labour’s commitment to addressing the maintenance backlog in hospitals and investing more money in GP premises, as well as much-needed additional funding for training and for public health, but said it was regrettable that the plan did not mention pensions reform. BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It is promising to see that Labour has recognised the need for increased and sustained investment in the NHS. Our health service is clearly struggling and … whoever forms the next government must put the NHS back on a sustainable footing. With our recent analysis revealing that the NHS is on track for its worst winter yet, we need to see resources delivered to the frontline as Labour has rightly highlighted that trolley waits and poor A&E performance must be addressed.  

“Pressures on services have been heightened by the workforce crisis within the NHS and while commitments to boost the GP training scheme and funding for additional nursing places are most welcome, it is disappointing that there is no mention of pensions reform. We need a future government that will once and for all scrap the punitive pension taxation which is driving senior doctors out of the NHS.”

The Nuffield Trust said the new money announced by Labour would mean the NHS “could breathe a sigh of relief”, but warned that tough decisions would still have to be made. Its chief executive Nigel Edwards commented: “It’s not all about money though, extreme staff shortages are the greatest problem facing the NHS. We’re very pleased to see measures we recommended like bringing back grants for student nurses but more will still need to be done to keep staff in the NHS and attract them from abroad. Increasing GP training by this amount will only work if young doctors see general practice as a viable and attractive career option – both GP services and hospitals are struggling to fill training posts and there are only so many medical trainees to go around.”

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