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Starmer to pledge Labour’s mission will be to cut suicide rates

Sir Keir Starmer will pledge that Labour’s mission “must be and will be” to reverse the rising number of deaths from suicide.

The Labour leader is due to give a speech in the east of England on Monday in which he will outline his vision for modernising the NHS and will announce ambitious targets for the next Labour government.

Sir Keir will commit to tackle the biggest killers, including suicide, and bring NHS waiting times back to safe levels.

He will say: “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.”

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Coroners’ statistics published earlier this month revealed that 2022 saw the highest number of suicides recorded in England and Wales.

Labour’s pledge will be for suicide rates to start declining within five years.

The Labour leader will also promise to reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by a quarter within ten years, and to hit all NHS cancer targets so patients are seen on time and diagnosed early.

He will argue that in order to achieve a sustained change in the NHS, there will have to be three “big shifts” in approach: analogue to digital; hospital to community and sickness to prevention.

Addressing the record numbers of people on waiting lists, Sir Keir will tell the audience the next Labour government “will deliver an NHS that is there when you need it”, adding: “No backsliding, no excuses. We will meet these standards again. We will get the NHS back on its feet.”

By reforming the NHS and training the staff it needs, the party will also promise to hit NHS targets within five years in order to ensure ambulances get to people in time to save lives, get people seen by a GP when they need, stop people facing dangerously long waits in A&E and guarantee shorter waits for hospital appointments when people need specialist care.

Sir Keir will say in his speech: “We have a plan. We will fight for the NHS. We will fix the NHS. We will reform the NHS. Old values, new opportunities. Technology and science, convenience and control, renewal not decline.

“An NHS, not just off its knees but running confidently towards the future.”

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said it was supportive of the Labour pledge to “reverse rising rates of suicide”.

He said: “While most cases of completed suicide are linked to mental illness, at-risk patients are not being identified or offered the mental health treatment that could have prevented their death.

“The focus on preventing mental illness is the right approach.

“Mental illness can in many cases be prevented with early intervention and by tackling root causes including inequality, racism and abuse. Schools, for example, provide a particularly important space for early intervention.”

Brian Dow, chief executive of non-government organisation Mental Health UK, said: “People with mental ill health need good quality care, quickly, close to home.

“But the state of your finances, security of job and home all play a part in keeping people mentally well, so a cross-government approach on mental health is a vital step in transforming our approach to a subject which now consistently comes up as a high priority for the public.”

The Conservative Party highlighted that cutting NHS waiting lists was one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top five priorities for the country.

A party source said: “We have already seen 18-month waits down 91% from the peak and two-year waits virtually eliminated.

“If Labour wanted to address waiting lists, they shouldn’t have voted against Conservative plans for more doctors.

“If Labour wanted to address NHS efficiency, they shouldn’t be setting out a plan for thousands of more NHS managers. If Labour were serious about NHS reform they would have taken action where they are in power in Wales where waiting lists are higher.”