The Labour Party has pledged to cut NHS waiting lists in England by paying nurses and their colleagues to provide additional out-of-hours appointments, it has been announced.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would put £1.1bn into the NHS to pay for staff to do overtime on evenings and weekends so that more procedures can be carried out.
“Too often the NHS runs on the goodwill of its staff”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) welcomed the proposed investment, highlighting that nursing staff already work “so much overtime that is never paid” and therefore a “change of culture” was needed in the NHS.
However, the college said ultimately additional nursing staff would be needed to properly address the waiting lists.
The plan to tackle waiting lists was unveiled ahead of the Labour Party conference, being held in Liverpool this week.
It comes as part of a series of wider reforms for the NHS in England, pledged earlier this year, which Labour said it would put in place if the party wins the next general election.
As well as boosting out-of-hours shifts, the new plan will also see neighbouring hospitals use shared waiting lists so that they can work more efficiently together and make the best use of available capacity.
The Labour Party has estimated that an additional two million appointments could be carried out a year, with patients being seen in NHS hospitals by NHS staff.
It comes as there are a record 7.7 million people in England waiting to start treatment in the NHS in England.
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, Sir Keir laid out his vision for tackling wait lists, which he said was “absolutely necessary for our NHS”.
He warned that the increasing backlog was “a major factor” behind the country’s failure on economic growth because there were too many people who cannot work as they cannot get the operations they need.
Sir Keir said the backlog-clearing plan would be paid for by cancelling ‘non-dom’ tax status, which allows someone who was born in another country to pay tax in the UK only on their UK income.
“We will use the money from abolishing the non-dom status,” he told the Sunday Mirror.
“That’s where the super-rich don’t pay their tax in this country. I think they should.”
More information about the plan is set to be released during the Labour Party conference being held this week.
In response, the RCN’s chief nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, said nursing staff were already doing extra, although were often not paid for it.
She said: “Too often the NHS runs on the goodwill of its staff.
“Nursing staff work so much overtime that is never paid – staying behind an hour or two after 12-hour shifts to keep patients safe – so a change in this culture is needed.
“As part of their shift patterns, weekend work is routine for many.”
Professor Ranger noted that a Labour government would take office at a time where there are a record number of nurse vacancies – more than 40,000 – meaning the long-term solution to cut waiting lists would be to have more staff overall.
She added: “When many nurses already work additional full days to make ends meet financially, extra capacity is urgently required.
“Nursing staff must feel valued by fair pay and treatment – there is no other way to boost staffing levels and give patients the treatment they deserve.”
“Labour’s plan needs to be part of a broader strategy that includes workforce growth and retention”
Unison general secretary, Chrisina McAnea, echoed this, and said the plans must only be “a stop-gap measure”.
She said: “A voluntary scheme, where staff are paid fairly, that avoids the use of expensive agencies, makes sense in the short term.
“The priority must be to retain existing staff and encourage more temporary workers to go on the books and become directly employed NHS employees.
“There must also be a properly funded recruitment campaign to fill the thousands of NHS vacancies.
“That’s how to tackle the huge backlog in the most efficient and effective way.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Sir Julian Hartley, welcomed Labour’s plans, noting that some trusts in England were already pooling staff and sharing waiting lists.
However, he argued that it was “critical” that underlying issues facing health and care were addressed, such as staff shortages, burnout and the ongoing strikes taking place within the NHS.
Sir Julian said: “These challenges must be tackled – including both sides of the pay dispute finding a resolution.
“Labour’s plan needs to be part of a broader strategy that includes workforce growth and retention together with investment in healthcare infrastructure to ensure lasting improvements for NHS patients and staff alike.”
The out of hours plan follows Labour’s announcement of a ‘Fit For The Future Fund’, which has promised to give the NHS state-of-the-art equipment and new technology to also cut waiting times.
The party said the fund would provide enough funding to double the number of CT and MRI scanners in the NHS so that patients get diagnosed earlier.
These plans will also be paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status.
Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said :“Labour’s Fit For The Future Fund will take the NHS out of the analogue and into the digital age.
“We will arm the NHS with the cutting-edge kit it needs to cut waiting lists and get patients treated on time again.
“This is the first step in changing the focus of the NHS to catch illness much earlier and treat it faster, which is better for patients and less expensive for taxpayers.”