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Promises, promises: what to make of Labour’s and the Tories’ health pledges

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 13 October 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2381

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Linked Opinion

Strikes and waiting times loom large as main parties draw their election battle lines

  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

As the political conference season draws to a close, Gareth Iacobucci assesses the two main parties’ health policy pronouncements

Waiting times

In his keynote speech to his party’s conference in Liverpool on 10 October, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said that cutting waiting lists was the “biggest challenge” facing the NHS.1 He pledged that a Labour government would commit an annual £1.1bn to provide two million more hospital appointments a year to tackle the backlog, which in England now stands at 7.8 million people waiting for treatment. This would be funded by ending the non-domicile tax status that allows some of the richest people in the UK to avoid paying tax.

It would rely on existing NHS staff, who would be paid overtime to work evening and weekend shifts. “We will get the NHS working round the clock. And we will pay staff properly to do it,” Starmer said. But the BMA said that although the move could incentivise some doctors to do further overtime it could stall unless their calls for pay restoration were answered.2

The prime minister made lowering NHS waiting times one of his five key priorities when he took office, but things have been moving in the wrong direction. In his speech to Conservative Party delegates in Manchester on 4 October Rishi Sunak acknowledged that waiting lists were “patients’ most pressing concern” but that efforts to tackle the backlog were being undermined by doctors’ strikes.3

Industrial action

The BMA hit back at Sunak for criticising striking doctors in his speech and for not acknowledging the association’s offer of conciliatory …

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