NHS modernisation ‘urgent and vital’, shadow health secretary says

Wes Streeting delivered a speech at the NHS ConfedExpo on Wednesday.

Discussions about changing and modernising the NHS are “even more urgent and vital” due to the depth of the crisis the service is facing, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said.

Speaking at the NHS ConfedExpo on Wednesday, Mr Streeting said “politics is part of the problem”.

He added: “Even if the NHS weren’t in the midst of the worst crisis in its history, which it objectively is, and even if the public finances weren’t in a terrible mess, which they are, my argument is that we would still need to be talking about how we build an NHS that’s fit for the future – equipped to deal with the health needs and epidemiology of the Britain of 2048, not 1948.

“But the depth of the crisis in our NHS and the state of the economy makes the conversation about change and modernisation even more urgent and vital.”

Mr Streeting acknowledged there are “amazing opportunities available to the NHS now and in the coming years” but called for technology to be upgraded to stop the health service “being held back by creaking, outdated technology”.

It comes after Labour claimed almost 80,000 pagers are still being used in the NHS, despite former health secretary Matt Hancock saying in 2019 that the service would stop using the gadgets in 2021.

Mr Streeting said: “There are now tools which can map radiation therapy onto cancer cells, avoiding organs more precisely than a radiologist working alone. And it does it in seconds, rather than the hour it takes a doctor. This is the standard technology used across the United States. But just one in three radiotherapy planning centres in England use this technology.

“There are between one and two million mammograms done across the UK each year. 96% will not find cancer. But those women are currently left in the dark for weeks, or even months, waiting for the results. Why the hold-up? Because two clinicians are required to check them, and there is a workforce crisis.

“But AI can rule out cancer-free scans in seconds, getting patients their results faster and freeing up clinicians to focus on the tests displaying abnormalities.  This has been rolled out across Hungary since 2021, but not across the NHS.

“AI can help interpret chest X-rays, saving 15% of a radiologist’s workload. When combined with interpretation by a consultant radiologist, it can reduce missed lung cancer cases by 60%. Yet to be fully adopted by the NHS.”

Mr Streeting also said the future of the health service “must see more care taking place in the community” to reduce the burden on hospitals, but “slow adoption is working against that”.

Labour has committed to doubling medical school places and training 10,000 more nurses and midwives, which is said it will fund by abolishing the non-dom tax status.

However, Mr Streeting said that “could take years”.

He added: “The technology that exists today can instantly free up staff, make their working lives more bearable so they stay in the service, and deliver better, faster care for patients at the same time.”

Industrial strike
Junior doctors started a 72-hour strike on Wednesday morning (Lucy North/PA)

Mr Streeting blamed a “failure from the top” for keeping the health service in an “analogue age”.

He said the Government “cannot effectively reform the health service because it is unwilling, unable, and too distracted”.

Mr Streeting also called on Rishi Sunak to negotiate with junior doctors and said his “approach has failed”.

It comes as thousands of junior doctors started a 72-hour walk-out on Wednesday in a row over pay.

He added: “It may suit the Conservatives to blame rising waiting lists on strikes, but it doesn’t suit the NHS and it doesn’t suit patients. So my message to the Prime Minister is: take responsibility, get around the table with junior doctors yourself, and negotiate.”

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