NHS Doesn't Listen To Patients, Says Wes Streeting

Shadow health secretary says the health service is "failing patients on a daily basis".
Wes Streeting said it was "voices on the Left who oppose reform who prove themselves to be the true conservatives".
Wes Streeting said it was "voices on the Left who oppose reform who prove themselves to be the true conservatives".
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

Labour’s Wes Streeting has said there is a culture in the NHS that means that too often patients are not listened to.

The shadow health secretary said that in some cases “patients have to do things at the convenience of the NHS rather than at the convenience of patients”.

Streeting made the comments at an event hosted by the rightwing think-tank Policy Exchange — which he joked was the “perfect place to rebuild my street cred with my comrades on the Left”.

He said he believed the problem of patients feeling unheard was particularly felt by women.

He told the event: “We do have a culture in the NHS where I think too often patients aren’t listened to.

“And we’re seeing that particularly in relation to women’s health, and the ongoing issues we see raised in relation to things like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, menopause.

“Yet we still have a system that doesn’t listen well enough to women when they’re talking about their health, which means poor diagnosis, miserable experience and poor outcomes.

“And it shows that even when a system is staffed by people who really care about their patients, the culture doesn’t always lead to patients being listened to.”

Streeting has been advocating for reform in the NHS, such as ending the scramble for appointments at 8am and improving what he called “appalling” levels of access to GPs.

The intervention has set him at loggerheads with the doctor’s union the British Medical Association (BMA), which accused him of “demonising GPs who are trying their best to deliver care”.

He has also spoken on his desire to bring in the private sector to provide short-term relief to the spiralling NHS waiting list, which currently stands at 7.2 million people.

The shadow health secretary has previously acknowledged the unease many on the Left feel about private sector involvement in the health service and how it could undermine the NHS.

He also said that his own party can “sometimes be the party of the voice of the people who work in the NHS” rather than for patients.

There was both a “pragmatic and principled” argument to use the private sector to clear the backlog, Streeting said.

“When we’ve got a backlog as large as it is now, pragmatically, we cannot afford to waste a single bit of capacity that exists in healthcare in this country.”

He pointed out that there was already a “two-tier healthcare system” in the UK where the better off were seeking private healthcare to be treated faster.

“From a principled centre-left perspective, I just find that unconscionable: the idea that people who’ve got money — or in some cases people who are scrimping and scraping and getting themselves into debt — I find it unconscionable that those people get seen faster, and people who are too poor to pay get left behind.”

On making the comments about improving standards for patients, Streeting said he could “already feel the groans of people who are currently working in the NHS”.

He acknowledged that change would take time to deliver and that he did not expect to “fix all these things on day one of the Labour government”.

However he said it was “a totally reasonable thing to expect higher standards and for patient convenience to be at the heart of what a modern healthcare system would look like”.

Streeting, who has been widely tipped as a future Labour leader, was also asked about Labour’s position on striking workers in the NHS.

Yesterday, 100,000 nurses who are members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) staged their first mass walkout in over a century over pay and working conditions.

The RCN is asking for a pay increase of 5% above RPI inflation, which equates to a 19% rise.

The government has refused that offer, saying it is “unaffordable” in the current economic climate.

Streeting did not say whether a Labour government would be able to meet the nurses’ pay demands, but said it would be willing to get around the negotiating table.

And he said he would be willing to look at the independent pay review body that advises the government on NHS pay and which nurses argue lacks independence.

“The unions I think have expressed some concerns about how the pay review body works,” he said.

“And we’ve said we would be willing to look at those concerns as part of a wider negotiation to avoid strike action. And I think the government should take up that challenge.”


What's Hot