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Wes Streeting: What could a Labour government mean for pharmacy?

The shadow health secretary has set out his three “big shifts” in how the NHS would work under a Labour government at a panel discussion this week.

Primary care, prevention and patient power - shadow health secretary Wes Streeting sketched his priorities should Labour win the forthcoming general election at a panel event attended by C+D yesterday (April 24).

Streeting was discussing Labour’s preparations for government on a panel chaired by Daily Mirror assistant editor Jason Beattie, alongside chief executive of the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) - which represents manufacturers of over-the-counter (OTC) medications - Michelle Riddalls and UCL Business chief executive Dr Anne Lane.

Streeting said that the UK will face a “perfect storm” in healthcare over the coming years, with an ageing population, more chronic disease and rising costs placing pressure that could bankrupt the NHS.

Read more: Wes Streeting: Pharmacies to host clinical trials under Labour plans

“The crisis in the NHS has never been so bad,” he added, stressing that Labour is unashamed to make “a strong reform argument” that would “rebuild our country’s national health service”.

The UK has seen “a decimation of public health budgets over the last 14 years”, he added.

But he told delegates that with the “weakness of public finances”, it is “outrageous” that the money that the NHS receives overall - “more than ever” - has not been spent efficiently.

“It’s going to the wrong places,” he said, vowing that public funds would be “well spent” and would ensure that the NHS is “fit for the future” under a Labour government.


More money for primary care?


Streeting set out that the NHS under Labour would see three “big shifts” in the way that it “delivers care”.

Primary care would come to the fore, shifting the “centre of gravity” away from hospitals, he told delegates.

He added that it is a “tragedy” that people are forced to turn to “more expensive” A&E departments because they cannot see a GP.

Read more: Sector welcomes Labour’s promise of ‘greater role’ for pharmacy

Independent Community Pharmacy editor Neil Trainis, the only member of the press granted a question at the event, pressed Streeting to commit to restoring funding to the community pharmacy sector.

The shadow health secretary was careful to avoid making “unfunded spending commitments” but said that community pharmacy would be a beneficiary of the shifting “centre of gravity”.

“We do need to see a shift…in the proportion of NHS funding that goes into primary care, including community pharmacy, because I think that will lead to better outcomes for patients [and] taxpayers' money,” he told delegates.

Read more: Wes Streeting ‘really alarmed’ by Lloydspharmacy closure reports

However, this would be done “in a managed way” and “over time” under Labour, he added.

Given the economic troubles and the “deep understandable cynicism about government”, Streeting predicted that a “pioneering 21st century NHS” would be “a decade in the making”.

“That's why we're being so careful about the promises we make at this election,” he said.


“The great social leveller”


Streeting’s second “big shift” would move the current “analogue” health service into one that is “digitally and data driven”, he told delegates.

“Technology and data have potential to be the great social leveller in healthcare,” he said.

Read more: Wes Streeting: Pharmacies 'capable of so much more' than selling shampoo

Streeting added that Labour is set on harnessing the UK’s “enormous strengths” in the life sciences industry to drive innovations like “more personalised medicine”.

And he said that an NHS app that guides patients through treatment options would be “revolutionary in terms of patient power”.


Prevention agenda


The shadow health secretary’s third “big shift” would be away from “the sickness service we have today” to a focus on “preventing ill health”, he said.

A “mission-driven” government led by Keir Starmer would attend to the so-called “social determinants of health” such as housing, work, access to education, access to healthy foods and access to leisure and recreation, he told delegates.

And he added that Labour would ban junk food adverts aimed at children “not just on broadcast media, but online”.

Read more: Pharmacies should do 'a lot more' vaccinations, says shadow health sec

Meanwhile, Streeting said that health inequalities needed a Labour government’s “sharper focus”, adding that it is an “outrage” that black women are “four times more likely to die in childbirth” compared to white women and that women face a seven-year wait to be diagnosed with endometriosis.

In February, Streeting indicated that a Labour government would “make it easier” for clinical trials to recruit candidates and run in community pharmacies.

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