Wes Streeting: I won’t give in to doctors’ unions on huge NHS pay demands

Wes Streeting has vowed he will be “a shop steward for patients” as health secretary, with a warning to striking doctors that he will not meet their huge pay demands.

With an election on 4 July, Mr Streeting has attempted to outline what sort of health secretary he would be if Labour, as expected, is victorious but takes power in the face of record waiting lists caused by the Covid pandemic and exacerbated by ongoing pay disputes.

And he comes with a message on why things need to change: “The NHS is not the envy of the world.”

The shadow health secretary was speaking to The Independent ahead of appearing at the Hay Festival this weekend in conversation with Independent editor Geordie Greig about his biography One Boy, Two Bills and a Fry Up.

Mr Streeting insisted that the book is “not my Obama book” in the way it is meant to promote him as a future leader.

He added: “I think if I write another book, I want it to be about how we turned around the NHS.”

Mr Streeting said that he believes the state of the NHS was a major reason Rishi Sunak braved the rain on Wednesday afternoon to announce an election.

He said: “We know why Rishi Sunak has called the election now. It’s because he knows there’s another NHS winter crisis around the corner, while strikes that he’s failed to resolve are still ongoing.”

The last two winters have seen two of the worst crises for the NHS on record, with beds taken up by patients suffering the effects of flu and Covid.

But Mr Streeting is also the face of one of the top six pledges – or first steps – on Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge card promising to bring in an extra 40,000 appointments a week.

Asked how he would describe the sort of health secretary he wants to become, Mr Streeting said: “I will be a shop steward for patients as health secretary.”

He acknowledges that while plans to use spare capacity from private medical providers and introducing weekend working on a voluntary basis will help bring down waiting lists, he will need to end the strikes to resolve the crisis.

Mr Streeting claimed he suspects the Tories are using the strikes as an election tactic.

“I think it suits the prime minister that there are people out on strike because he can blame the staff for the fact he hasn’t kept his waiting list pledge rather than take responsibility. I think that is the hallmark of this prime minister – blame other people, takes no responsibility himself.”

However, Mr Streeting, a former National Union of Students president whose family were Tories on his father’s side and Labour on his mother’s, is not afraid to bring together the two political traditions.

This includes his plan to use private health companies to bring down waiting lists, a policy which has angered many on the left.

But he is unrepentant: “I think what a lot of my critics can’t answer is the consequences of their convictions. If you’re saying to me, we shouldn’t use spare capacity in the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists, what you’re basically saying is that working-class people who can’t afford to pay for those appointments, they should be waiting longer because of your principles.”

He recently also annoyed some Labour activists by defending the decision to keep the two-child cap on child benefits even though he admits in his book that his mother needed benefits to put food on the table and coins in the electricity meter.

He said that “handouts” are not the solution to tackling poverty.

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