Wes Streeting says NHS must ‘reform or die’ as he slams Britain’s sick note culture and says immigration must fall

Chris Eades - 07980 775577 Labour shadow health minister Wes Streeting being interviewed by Kate Ferguson for the Sun on Sunday.

THE NHS must reform or suffer a “long and painful death”, Wes Streeting said last night.

Our health system is a “service not a shrine” and will not be fixed by just chucking cash at it, the shadow health secretary said.

Labour shadow health minister Wes Streeting

Hospitals are too reliant on foreign nurses, GPs dole out sick notes “willy-nilly” and immigration is too high and putting a strain on services, he said.

In an explosive interview with HOAR on Sunday, Mr Streeting said: “It is not my job to go around pretending that the NHS is the best in the world or the envy of the world to make us all feel cheerful”, he said.

“It is my job to be honest with the public and with the system – that the NHS is falling well short of where we need it to be, and to give people some hope that there is a party able to fix it.”

He added: “If the NHS doesn’t reform, it will die.

“It is not going to collapse overnight.

“It will be a long, slow, painful death that sees the public begin to give up on the idea the NHS will be there for them when they need it, and perhaps even be attracted to those siren calls from some people in the Conservative Party that the NHS should become a paid for service.

“And I don’t accept the inevitability of either of those two things.”

His tough words will be echoed by Sir Keir Starmer tomorrow, when he uses a major speech to declare:  “The NHS is not sustainable unless we make serious, deep, long-term changes”

Wes Streeting says the NHS cant keep asking for more cash without reform

In a no holds barred interview, Mr Streeting also said: 

:: Hospitals are “100 per cent” too reliant on foreign doctors and nurses and we must train more Brits to do the jobs

:: Immigration – expected to hit 1 million this week – is too high and putting pressure on doctors, schools and housing.

:: GPs are doling out sick notes “willy-nilly” and more must be done to help the record 2.5million Brits on long term ill back into work

:: Junior doctors threatening to coordinate strikes with nurses would be guilty of a “dangerous escalation” that would “rightly turn” people against them

Covid has pushed our already struggling health service to the brink.

A record 7.2 million people are stuck on NHS England waiting lists.

Many GPs and dentists have closed their doors to new patients.

For those lucky enough to have one, getting an appointment can seem harder than winning the lottery.

Taking a sip from his tea at his favourite cafe –  Cafe 104 – near his home in Ilford, east London, Wes is clear the NHS will not be fixed by just pouring more cash into it.

“It is investment and reform that delivers results. The tragedy of the NHS today is we spend an awful lot of money on very poor outcomes”, he said.

Money is wasted on a bloated bureaucracy and creaking IT system which too often sees scans lost, results delayed and patients’ time wasted, he said.

On Monday, Wes will join Sir Keir in launching their health “mission” ahead of the next election.

They will promise to hit cancer targets, renew their promise to train more Brits as doctors and use private hospitals to clear backlogs.

For Wes, the mission is personal.

Diagnosed and treated for kidney cancer in 2021 when he was just 38 years-old, he saw first hand how the NHS’s outdated systems can let patients down.

Invited into hospital for a CT scan during his diagnosis, he realised halfway through he had been sent for an ultrasound – the wrong scan.

“Now in my case that didn’t have an impact on my cancer outcomes”, Wes – who has now been given the all-clear – said.

“But when every day counts as it so often does in later stage cancer diagnoses, that was time I might not have been able to afford.”

The NHS has been hit by a series of crippling strikes in recent months – and there is no end in sight.

Mr Streeting is careful to steer clear of directly criticising nurses on picket lines.

But he came out swinging against junior doctors agitating for coordinated strikes with nurses to inflict maximum disruption. 

Much of the public is sympathetic to string medics, he said. But this would quickly change if they pursued this “dangerous escalation of action”.

He told doctors “don’t forget why you became medics in the first place…and how would you feel if it was one of your relatives in hospital knowing there isn’t going to be the level of cover needed to provide safe care?

“Don’t lose sight of patient safety and the public will still be with you. 

“But the moment they lose sight of patient  safety I think the public will rightly turn.”

Mr Streeting also waded into the row on immigration.

Official numbers released later this week are expected to show net migration has reached nearly 1 million.

In an astonishingly frank assessment, Mr Streeting said immigration is too high, putting a strain on the NHS – as well as housing and schools.

And he promised Labour will bring it down if they get the keys to No10.

“I think anyone looking at the levels of net migration now would conclude that it is at a level the country will not be able to cope with and we have got to have that as a serious focus”, he said.

Looking around at his constituents sitting in the bustling cafe, he added: “They are proud to be British, proud of their roots – but they will also tell you they are worried about housing, they worry about infrastructure, they worry about school places, they worry about the NHS.”

People – especially the left – “should not mistake anxiety about high migration with prejudice”, he added.

Speaking days after figures which show a record 2.5m Brits are off work sick, he said the numbers are alarming.

“It has become so overwhelming and the pressure on general practice so high that sick notes are dished out willy-nilly”, he said.

More must be done to help those on long term sick back into jobs they can do, he said.

As Britain struggles with an obesity crisis, some in politics have called for the sugar tax on fizzy drinks to be extended to other sugary treats like cakes, biscuits and even orange juice.

But Mr Streeting said he does not want to clobber cash-strapped families with more ‘sin taxes’.

And he came out against calorie counts on beer pumps in pubs.

Although he did lash out at the new kitkat cereal – saying it was “appalling” makers were marketing the sugary brekkie at kids and pretending it’s nutritious.

And he slammed “completely irresponsible” vaping firms for getting kids hooked on smoking by branding their puffers like colourful sweets, telling them: “We are going to come down on you like a tonne of bricks.”

A huge fan of the monarchy, Wes managed to bag a coveted ticket to King Charles’ Coronation earlier this month.

“It was absolutely amazing. Despite the things I’ve achieved in my life I think going to the Coronation is probably my dad’s proudest moment”, he says, beaming.

Wes is widely tipped to be a future leader himself.

Does he hanker after the Labour crown one day?

Wes laughs off the suggestion – although does not deny it.

Instead he tactfully says: “I just feel like if the one job I ever get to do in politics is to be the health secretary to turn the NHS around from its worst crisis in history and make it fit for the future, I will consider that a career well spent.”