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Labour announces ‘war on NHS waste’

The NHS is wasting up to £10 billion of taxpayers’ money through inefficiencies, strikes, and unused, overpriced equipment, according to the Labour party.

The NHS is wasting up to £10 billion of taxpayers’ money through inefficiencies, strikes, and unused, overpriced equipment, according to the Labour party.

In light of this, Labour has announced a new plan to reform the NHS, save money and improve the patient experience.

Improving NHS efficiency will require a ‘different approach’

Standing in for shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, Karin Smyth, Shadow Minister of Health, set out Labour’s pitch at the annual conference of the Institute for Government (ISG) in London.

Speaking at the conference, Ms Smyth said: “The demands on GPs are rising as the number of GPs are falling. Hospitals did fewer procedures and appointments in 2023 than in 2019/20 despite more funding.”

She warned that not making the most of public money could “bankrupt the health service”, and highlighted an IFG report which found that ‘political turmoil’ in 2022 contributed to “arguably to worst winter in NHS history”.

This report stated that higher standards in the NHS could be achieved if services are reformed to work more productively, but this will require a ‘different approach’ from government.

Ms Smyth says a Labour government would take this approach if it took office following the next general election.

£3.5 billion spent on agency staff

During the speech, Ms Smyth said Labour has identified up to £10 billion of funding being wasted across the NHS. This includes:

  • £3.5 billion to pay agency staff due to workforce shortages
  • £1.7 billion on delayed discharges, with £626 million being paid to management consultants by the Department of Health and Social Care
  • £1 billion on wasted equipment, with some hospitals paying twice as much as others for equipment such as scanners and surgical tools
  • £2 billion on NHS strikes, which could have cost less to settle through a pay agreement.

Ms Smyth also highlighted various ways in which the NHS could become more efficient, including texting or emailing patients to notify them of new appointments and scrapping pagers.

Labour says the NHS wastes vast sums of money sending out appointment letters which don’t arrive on time, with one in five missing appointments due to postal delays.

Others miss appointments because they are unable to cancel or reschedule the appointment due to long waits to get through to a GP surgery or hospital. These “inefficiencies” cost the NHS millions and have a significant impact on patient experience, Labour says.

Ms Smyth also announced plans to reduce backlogs by paying high street opticians to carry out some routine NHS eyecare, such as for cataracts and glaucoma.

Local NHS leaders want more control over how and when to spend money

NHS leaders have welcomed the idea of improving productivity, but Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has warned that “mandating savings plans from Westminster risks throwing up more problems than it would solve.”

“A new government should recognise the need to invest properly in the NHS: this means its staff, its infrastructure, and its estate. These are three areas where our members say that new investment could fuel increased productivity. But not all of this will have short-term benefits.

Training and recruiting enough permanent staff to drive down the spending on agencies will take many years. Throwing all the pagers in the bin will only save money if they are replaced with something cheaper.”

Mr Taylor says local health leaders should be able to target additional spending where they need it, rather than having their spending controlled centrally.

“NHS leaders have told us that increased capital spending is their priority for any new investment after the next election and underinvestment has been the number one issue holding back their progress towards greater productivity. The next government must boost capital funding to allow the service to address the maintenance backlog,” he said.

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