What’s the substance of Labour’s health mission?
Labour’s recent ‘health mission’ unveiling is their most comprehensive offering on health policy yet. Labour would look to shift care out of the hospital and into the community, placing more attention on preventing rather than treating ill health. They would look to modernise the NHS, embracing digital and technological innovation to improve efficiency in the NHS. Their proposals also focus on making the NHS a more attractive place to work, to improve recruitment, training, and retention. And, aligning with current priorities in the health service, Labour would commit to tackling three of the country’s biggest killers: cancer, heart disease and suicide.
On the surface, the health mission lacks depth. However, it landed well, securing positive headlines on this most politically salient of issues.
Beyond the headlines, WA’s engagement with senior figures in the Labour Party and across British politics are reassuring, suggesting that far more detailed policies are in development. Health system leaders we have spoken to are optimistic about the proposals they have been consulted on. We also know that there is more opportunity ahead: Starmer is willing to grant freedom to those he trusts on policy development, tasking them to ‘think bold’.
Are Labour’s health ambitions achievable?
Prioritising community care, prevention and tackling health inequalities over the delivery of acute and elective care aligns with what the NHS needs. But Labour might find it difficult to achieve if they triumph at the next General Election. Waiting lists are at an all-time high, ambulance services are under considerable pressure and the NHS is under extreme financial scrutiny.
The urgent demands on the health agenda may limit Labour’s ability to deliver radical improvements in the NHS. Despite the positive reception of their policy offer among health system leaders, Labour have already discovered how difficult it can be to take everyone with them when proposing more radical change; Wes Streeting’s early announcements on primary care reform generated significant pushback from doctors’ unions.
In this crucial period for manifesto shaping, Labour will need to balance Starmer’s call for bold thinking with solutions that are politically palatable. Labour will need to develop policy solutions that combine quick wins with long-term innovative thinking. Health stakeholders will need to share policy proposals that align with short and long-term ambitions and show awareness of the balancing act required from Labour.
Is Labour’s mission-led approach likely to succeed?
When New Labour revived a crisis-ridden NHS it was transformative. However, it took a considerable amount of time and relied on heavy investment; neither are a luxury available to Starmer in the current political and financial climate.
The scale of the challenge lying ahead of Labour means they won’t be able to fix the NHS in one electoral term. Solving the health and social care crisis isn’t all about money and if Labour wants to follow through on their mission-led approach to health policy, they will need to invest the right money in the right areas.
Despite the challenges ahead, Starmer is convinced that bold thinking is the key to successful and progressive policy development. Working in partnership and embracing innovation from all sectors could be pivotal in this approach.
More information about Labour’s policy-making process, the battlegrounds for business, and how organisations can get heard can be found in WA’s Guide to Engaging with the Labour Party.