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Labour party’s NHS commitments could be an “effective plan for a healthier society”

RCP says Labour party’s health commitments for England are “a welcome and ambitious long-term vision for a healthier population”. 

The Labour Party’s health commitments for England are “a welcome and ambitious long-term vision for a healthier population,” according to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The College said that it “very much” welcomed the reforms plans announced this week which details the party’s commitments including improving long-term workforce planning and a cross-government approach to tackle health inequalities.

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer also wants to reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes by a quarter within a decade and “build an NHS fit for the future“.

He said the first goal would be to reset the wait times for accident and emergency to four hours and ambulance times for cardiac arrest to under seven minutes, and to get planned treatment waits within 18 weeks.

Cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities

The second goal is to improve healthy life expectancy for all by halving the inequality gap between different regions of England and focusing on health inequalities.
The RCP who have campaigned for a number of years to improve health inequalities said they strongly welcomed these commitments to establish a ‘mission delivery board’ to ‘bring together all departments with an influence over the social determinants of health’.

President of the RCP Dr Sarah Clarke said: “Social determinants of ill health, including smoking, obesity, pollution and poor housing, place significant and avoidable demands on our health service. That is why the over 240 members of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), convened by the RCP, have been calling for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. Labour is right to recognise that to improve health we have to focus on the factors that shape it – which so often sit outside the Department of Health and Social Care or NHS.

“Labour’s health mission today echoes many of the issues the RCP has been campaigning on for improvement for years. It offers a welcome direction of travel in building a long-term sustainable and effective plan for the NHS and a healthier society.”

Need to go beyond the sticking plaster approach

Other goals include ensuring 75% of all cancer is diagnosed at stage one or two and reducing the number of deaths by suicide.

Sir Keir Starmer added: “Suicide is the biggest killer of young lives in this country, the biggest killer. That statistic should haunt us, and the rate is going up. Our mission – must be and will be – to get it down.

“So there’s no time to dither. This mission starts with people – that’s at the heart of the crisis right now. That’s why we’re committed to the biggest expansion of NHS training in its history – more nurses, doctors, midwives and health visitors.”

He said that NHS reform will have to go beyond the sticking plaster approach and there are grounds to be optimistic. But it will require three shifts that must be placed at the heart of everything we do on health. These are moving care away from hospitals and closer to the community, thinking more about prevention of illnesses, and making better use of technology.

Urgent help needed to get us out of this mess

The British Medical Association also welcomed the plan and said that the NHS and the health of the nation has been allowed to deteriorate and must be a key focus for any future government.

Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, said: “So we welcome the commitment from Sir Keir Starmer that a Labour government, if elected, would bring our health service back to being fit for the future by recognising just what the NHS is capable of, which the current government has failed to realise. With patients and staff continuing to suffer, we need urgent action to help us get out of this mess.

“The focus on prevention is a big positive, and it is good to see a commitment to reverse the worrying trend of deaths from suicides, heart disease, strokes and cancers in this country. Labour’s focus on shifting care from sickness to prevention could help to turn things around, particularly in its plan to increase access to mental health services, and Sir Keir correctly highlighted that this would only be achievable through interventions that deal with poverty and inequalities to accessing health and social care. It was refreshing to hear Sir Keir acknowledge this and set out plans to strengthen regulation on junk food marketing to children – something the present Government have rowed back on.”

He said that Labour needed to go further in at least three key areas if they are to have a lasting impact on the nation’s health. This included tightening regulations of the smoking, alcohol and gambling industries, alongside junk food, restoring funding for public health services, which have been cut by 25% since 2015, and establish a cross-departmental goal to improve health and tackling health inequalities.

he added: “For example, suicide prevention needs to extends far beyond the provision of mental health care services – which we know are severely lacking – to addressing the root causes of people’s mental health struggles, including the shameful levels of poverty in this country.

“We look forward to working with the Labour Party on their approach to make the NHS fit for the future”.

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