Labour pledges to clear backlog of patients waiting over 18 weeks for treatment within five years

Labour has pledged to clear the backlog of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for NHS treatment within five years of government, if the party gets into power.

Wes Streeting, Labour's shadow health secretary, told Sky News his party would deliver "40,000 more appointments every week, extra evening and weekend clinics" to achieve the aim.

Measures include doubling the number of scanners to diagnose patients sooner, using spare capacity in the private sector without charging patients, and delivering what Labour claims will be "the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history".

He said the changes were already being piloted across a number of small hospitals and have been working "spectacularly well" .

General election latest: Starmer and Streeting holding Q&A

Alongside "the investment needed" and new diagnostic scanners, Mr Streeting said he was confident he can "get more people through and start eating into the 1.6 million-strong backlog".

"We're also going to use the spare capacity that exists in the independent sector because we're already seeing people who can afford paying to go private," he said.

"And I'm not going to see working-class people from backgrounds like mine left behind."

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The party says the plan will cost £1.3bn, paid for by "clamping down on tax dodgers and closing non-dom tax loopholes".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is set to formally announce the policy in the West Midlands today, where he will promise to "take the best of the NHS to the rest of the NHS so patients in every part of the country can be treated on time".

Labour say the 18-week promise of treatment in the NHS constitution has been missed every month since February 2016.

Almost 3.2 million people on the waiting list have breached that timeframe, according to the party's figures, with more than 300,000 having waited more than a year.

But making the pledge to clear the backlog, Sir Keir will point to Labour's previous record in government under Tony Blair, saying: "We did it before and we will do it again."

The policies build on one of the party's so-called "first steps" for government, which includes introducing an extra 40,000 appointments a week into the NHS, provided by staff working overtime.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror on Tuesday night, Sir Keir said hospitals will be told to start establishing both weekend and evening clinics "on day one" if his party wins the general election on 4 July.

And those who perform well will be sent to other hospitals around the country to show them best practice in an effort to cut down record waiting lists - which currently see more than seven million people waiting for treatment.

'More copy-and-paste politics'

However, Conservative Health Secretary Victoria Atkins called the announcement "more copy-and-paste politics from Labour, who have no plan".

"The NHS has faced unprecedented challenges which it can only overcome if supported by a strong economy," she added.

"That is why the Conservatives have a clear plan and will take bold action to strengthen the economy and continue to deliver the technology and innovation the NHS needs to keep cutting waiting lists."

The SNP called for Labour to get around the table with NHS staff in England as soon as possible if they win the next election to sort out ongoing pay disputes.

SNP health secretary Neil Gray said: "It is vital that we support our NHS staff. They were treated as heroes during the pandemic - and we should treat them as heroes now."

SNP calls for public ownership of railways

Meanwhile, his party leader and Scotland's First Minister John Swinney, will issue another demand to Sir Keir on Wednesday to bring the railways back into public ownership if they win the next election and introduce a major infrastructure investment package to "reverse cuts imposed by the Tories".

The Liberal Democrats will be in Wales to launch their campaign in the country with a £1bn pledge for agriculture.

And the Conservatives will focus on education, announcing plans to scrap the "worst performing" university courses and replace them with 100,000 apprentices a year.