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Streeting defends proposal for private hospitals to help tackle NHS backlog

Wes Streeting has defended his call for the private sector to be used to help tackle NHS backlogs.

The shadow health secretary, standing in as a presenter on LBC, said the NHS must “reform or die” as he acknowledged his plan to use private sector capacity as a short-term fix was controversial.

“This has caused some controversy, including on my own side, that as a short-term measure to deal with the NHS crisis I would be prepared to use the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists faster.

“We know that there’s spare capacity there. And I don’t think that people should be waiting longer while those beds exist.

“And I definitely don’t want to have a two-tier health system as I think we do today where those who can afford to pay go private and those who can’t are left behind.”

The Labour frontbencher said he was still considering the solutions to fix the NHS that would appear in Labour’s manifesto ahead of the next general election in two years.

He told listeners he was not in favour of privatising the NHS, adding: “I’ve been pretty blunt about the fact that I think the NHS needs to reform or it will die.

“We’ve seen in recent weeks the opinion pages of newspapers full of siren voices saying that the thing that I think we cherish and love about the NHS, the fact that it is free at the point of use, the fact that when I went through my cancer treatment last year, the one thing I didn’t have to worry about was the bill.

“People are now saying that’s unaffordable in the 21st century, that that equitable principle of free at the point of need was affordable in the 20th century, but is now unaffordable in the 21st, and I don’t buy that argument at all.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told Mr Streeting on the programme: “The challenge for you, I think, is that we need a short-term plan for recovery in the health service and a long-term plan for transformation in the health service. And we’ve got to recognise that the danger is that all the time we crisis manage.”

He said that while the NHS had to recover, a “long-term vision for a sustainable and much better health system in the future” is also required.