In a statement released just before midnight, the shadow health secretary pledged that a future Labour government would "get on top" of chronic underinvestment in the NHS within the "first 100 days".
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour's shadow health minister, was reacting to new analysis released by the UK's Labour Party which says that years of privatisation and cuts to the NHS have resulted in “extreme” and "catastrophic" risks to patient safety.
The analysis is based on 120 Trust Board papers which reveal "hundreds of risks to patient safety", the majority of which are "linked to lack of spending, staffing shortages or the failures of privatisation". This comes only one day after revelations that nearly 5,500 people have died from 2016 - 2019 while waiting for beds in NHS hospitals, according to a study by NHS doctors.
Ashworth said that “These shocking reports reveal an NHS in crisis and on the brink".
He also pledged to repeal the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which removed the duty of the health minister to provide everyone with healthcare.
Labour's analysis: staff shortages will cost lives
Among the "extreme" or "catastrophic" risks recorded in the board papers was Southport And Ormskirk Hospital Trust. There is a "catastrophic risk of inadequate staffing levels in the anaesthetic department due to burn out, sickness, annual leave or lack of sufficiently cheap agency staff", Labour said. Another example of "extreme risks" is in Mid Cheshire, where shortages in nursing, consultants, and beds mean that patients suffering from heart problems, rheumatology issues, and respiratory illness, could go untreated in time.
Labour's final party broadcast before the upcoming general election focused on the NHS:
We have 3 days to save our NHS.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) December 9, 2019
Watch our final Party Broadcast before anyone else. pic.twitter.com/nwe0DALSPh
Dr Bob Gill, an anti-privatisation campaigner, reviewed the policy pledges made by Labour's shadow health minister. Gill, who recently produced the documentary The Great NHS Heist, said that he welcomed the commitments made by the Labour Party, with the caveat that they are "not enough".
"We need to repeal all the privatisation legislation", including the "internal market" introduced by the Tories in the 1980s, Gill said.
But Dr Gill also said that "Labour's privatisation introduced by the 2006 [National Health Service] Act" needs to be reversed. The general practitioner said that Labour's statement has "no mention of senior NHS leadership", who in his view have been "complicit in wrecking the NHS". He singled out the current head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, who he says has been "implementing the agenda of the US insurance industry" by restructuring the NHS along private lines. Stevens used to advise former New Labour PM Tony Blair on health policy before working for US insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. In 2013 the Tory government selected Stevens to head the NHS which he started to do by 2014.
Tories promise increased funding for NHS
In a general election debate broadcast by ITV on 29 November, Rishi Sunak, a Tory MP and chief secretary to the Treasury, labelled accusations that the NHS is at risk a "conspiracy theory". The Conservative Party says that under their leadership, "there are over 21,000 more doctors and almost 17,000 more nurses on our wards". They also say that the NHS budget will go up by "the biggest cash boost in its history", amounting to £33.9 billion by 2024. The governing party say that the government is providing £850 million to upgrade 20 hospitals and £2.7 billion to build six new hospitals all together. "Over 1 million NHS staff – nurses, midwives and cleaners – are getting a well-deserved pay rise of at least 6.5% per cent and doctors will also see their pay increase", the Conservatives say.
The King's Fund welcomed a number of the NHS pledges in the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto. But they noted that "the overall funding package pledged [by the Tories] for frontline NHS services is less generous than the offers from the other major political parties".
The UK's general election is scheduled for 12 December 2019 and the NHS is expected to rank among the top priorities of voters.