Money being wasted in the NHS is a “cultural problem, set from the top”, the Labour Party has said, as it announced reforms that would allow the health service to “realise its potential”.
The party warned that not making the most of public money could “bankrupt the health service” as it launched a “war on waste”.
Labour vowed to bring in reforms that focus on ill health prevention, bolstering access to healthcare and upgrading NHS technology, which it said would require a “genuine partnership” between business and government.
Shadow health minister Karin Smyth delivered a keynote speech at the Institute for Government conference in London, filling in for shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who was unable to attend due to illness.
She said: “Every patient sees that there is waste in the system. Whether it’s appointments missed because the letter arrived too late in the post, tests that are already being done at the GP having to be repeated at hospital, or wasting a day’s work to go to an outpatient appointment at a hospital that could have been done more locally, more conveniently.
“Everyone knows the inconveniences and inefficiencies, especially those working in the NHS. They see it every day, from frozen computers at the end of a long shift to the unnecessary box-ticking exercise that wastes staff time.”
Labour claims billions of pounds are being wasted across the NHS, including £3.5 billion paid to recruitment firms it says was caused by a Conservative failure to “train enough staff over the last 14 years”.
A further £1.7 billion is being wasted on delayed discharges, Labour said, with £626 million being paid to management consultants by the Department of Health and Social Care.
It also said the £1 billion the NHS claims to have saved through bulk-buying equipment is also being wasted, with some hospitals paying twice as much as others for the likes of scanners and surgical tools.
Ms Smyth said it “is a cultural problem, set from the top”, adding: “You could fill 26 hospitals with patients in hospital beds today, unable to be discharged because there is no care available for them in the community.”
She added that the £2 billion bill for NHS strikes is “almost certainly more than it would have cost to settle a junior doctors’ strike at the start”.
“We have to do better with the money the public gives to the NHS. If we don’t, then the pressures coming down the track caused by our ageing population and rising chronic disease could overwhelm and even bankrupt the health service.”
If it wins the next general election, Labour pledged to remove red tape for GPs and tackle “unnecessary bureaucracy and targets which GPs say take up their time and take some away from the things that really matter”.
Ms Smyth also said the party would “end the Department of Health’s expensive addiction to management consultants” and get “consulting nurses, doctors and staff on the ground”.
“Cutting out waste shouldn’t be outsourced,” she added. “Every part of the NHS must have a collective focus on getting more out of what we put in. This is critical – not just to keeping costs down, but to improving care for patients.”
The party also announced plans to provide tests and follow-up appointments at high street opticians in a bid to slash NHS waiting lists.
Labour claimed there are 619,000 patients waiting for NHS eyecare and said it would seek to negotiate a deal to carry out more routine outpatient checks on the high street, using existing funds.
Appointments would include operation follow-ups, cataract pre-assessments, diagnostic tests and glaucoma monitoring.
“The money that’s wasted today can be used to get the NHS back on its feet tomorrow, and Labour has a serious plan to do just that,” Ms Smyth told delegates.
Ms Smyth said reforms will “require a genuine partnership, business and government working together, to get Britain back on track”.
“Developers of new technology and treatments are banging on the door to the NHS.
“They have the potential to transform healthcare for millions of patients. Those who can afford it go private and they are already seeing the benefit.”
She said the party will “hold the door open” for tech companies “so every patient can benefit from the fruits of the technological revolution, not just the wealthy”.
“Around the world, the NHS is envied for its potential for fast adoption of new medicines, technology and use of data. It’s about time the NHS realised that potential.”