Shadow health secretary supports private sector innovation to support the NHS

To overcome waiting lists and support the NHS, the shadow health secretary wants to 'hold the door wide open' for entrepreneurs

Published: 20 November 2023 Government & NHS

The Labour Party’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has said his part plans to "hold the door open" to private healthcare companies to support the NHS. 

Speaking on the i  newspaper podcast 'Labour’s Plan for Power,' Mr Streeting said he aims to fund 2 million more hospital appointments, double the funding for CT and MRI scanners, and find an extra 700,000 dentistry appointments should Labour take office.

He added that the party would turn to the private sector in order to access greater levels of innovation and efficiency, and that much of the NHS needs an overhaul.

'Holding the door wide open'

Mr Streeting called for management to enable innovation across the organisation in order to unlock benefits from consultants, nurses, and other people working at “every layer.”

The MP for Ilford North said: “I want those consultants and nurses on the front line to know when they see inefficiencies in the service, when they think it could be designed differently to get patients through faster, and deliver better patient outcomes, that they’ve got the freedom to get on and make those changes. 

“I want those entrepreneurs that are coming up with cutting edge treatments and technologies to know when they come up with a great idea that can deliver better outcomes for patients and better value for taxpayers money, they're not going to struggle to get through the front door of the NHS, we’re going to be holding the door wide open and encouraging them to come in. You need an approach to government which breaks down the barriers to people getting on with the job.”

Innovation or workforce?

Streeting said NHS England had “started to move in the right direction” by bringing in outside companies, but wanted to see government “put our foot on the accelerator.”

He added: “I mean sometimes they move at pedestrian pace. Why is it for example that where a treatment or technology is proven to work, proven to deliver better outcomes for patients and proven to deliver good value for taxpayers’ money in one NHS trust, do those innovators then have to try and tout their wares one by one around every other NHS trust?”

Leandre Archer, head of industrial relations at the Society of Radiographers, said however that the radiography workforce has always embraced new technologies and innovation.

“Radiographers are continually training and adapting to allow for the implementation of new equipment and techniques to provide the highest standard of patient care,” she said. “The Shadow Health Secretary must realise that whilst new innovations are extremely important, ensuring the recruitment and retention of the radiography workforce is paramount. 

“Having safe staffing levels in place and safeguarding the appropriate skill mix within departments will allow for not only better patient care but also for more research and along with this more innovation within the NHS.”

A broken system?

Mr Streeting went on to say that “pouring ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money into a broken system is not going to get the NHS back on its feet and, crucially, fit for the future”, adding that “what the NHS is terrible about is taking successful pilots and making sure they’re adopted and rolled out right across the whole system.”

While Ms Archer agreed that the NHS needed to improve the greater rollout of pilots, she disagreed with his approach to funding.

“This is primarily about long term funding,” Ms Archer said. “The UK Government puts significantly less into radiography than other European countries such as France and Germany. Our waiting lists reflect this with over one million people awaiting diagnostic imaging and ever-increasing waits for radiotherapy cancer treatment.”

The SoR is currently in a dispute with the Department for Health and Social Care over working conditions for its members, including staff shortages and pay stagnation. Earlier this year, SoR members took strike action in an attempt to help improve these working conditions. 

Ms Archer added: “We would hope that if there is a Labour government, they will tackle these issues head on. The SoR has many solutions to deal with the imaging and radiotherapy waiting lists, workforce retention and recruitment and innovation, and we would be happy to meet with the Shadow Health Secretary to discuss these in detail.”