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Thu, 18 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Labour Drops "NHS Is Not For Sale" Wording For Manifesto

Wes Streeting gives a speech on the general election campaign trail. in May 2024 (Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

The Labour Party's decision not to include the statement “the NHS is not for sale” in its election manifesto, despite the line being in a pre-manifesto offer, has prompted concern on the left.

The manifesto, which party leader Keir Starmer will unveil at a press conference in Manchester on Thursday, omits to say that “the NHS is not for sale” – a phrase included in Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) paper last year.

The NPF document said: “Under Labour, the NHS is not for sale. Labour will always protect our NHS as a publicly funded service, free at the point of use, and will secure healthcare for all.”

PoliticsHome understands that the Labour manifesto will instead state that “the NHS will be publicly funded and publicly owned”.

A Labour source told PoliticsHome: “With Labour, the NHS is not for sale. Or to put it another way, the NHS will always be publicly owned and publicly funded with Labour.” 

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has publicly said in the past that “the NHS is not for sale”.

However, the decision to omit prompted a concern to be raised in the 'Clause V' manifesto meeting last week and has been received badly from parts of the Labour left. 

Mark Ladbrooke, chair of Labour-affiliated group the Socialist Health Association, told PoliticsHome: “It’s a worrying sign.”

“One of the problems with the way sometimes the NHS is described is that people say the NHS is a system funded by the taxpayer and free at the point of use. But they're not saying who’s actually providing the healthcare and the service,” the SHA chair said.

“This is part of that trend. It doesn’t say whether the NHS is actually providing the service or simply commissioning the service.”

A Momentum spokesperson said: “Like the public, the labour movement is united behind a fully publicly owned, publicly run National Health Service. But Wes Streeting and Keir Starmer are instead doubling down on the private sector.

“To truly get the NHS back on its feet and make it fit for the future, Labour should be pledging to kick out the profiteers and insert a major cash injection, as NHS staff have been crying out, not repeating the failed Tory recipe of privatisation and underfunding.”

We Own It, an organisation that campaigns against privatisation, disagreed. They said the new wording was a positive sign from Labour. “It’s a really good development if they’re now saying ‘publicly owned’,” We Own It lead campaigner Johnbosco Nwogbo said.

However, he warned Labour against its policy of using the private sector to bring down waiting lists.

“The private sector is not going to help the NHS fix waiting lists. They just don’t have the capacity. It’s really important that Labour is putting an affirmative case on behalf of the NHS on building NHS capacity, investing in staff, so it’s able to take care of everybody by itself.”

Labour left critics of the leadership, including the Socialist Health Association (SHA), had already complained that the final NPF policy on the NHS did not reflect what had been agreed at party conference.

One motion passed by Labour conference in 2022 had promised to “return all privatised portions of the NHS to public control”.

“Far from having ‘spare capacity’, the private sector relies massively on staff trained and employed by the NHS, and leaves the NHS to deal with private sector mistakes and complications as intensive care is not profitable enough,” the SHA said in response to Labour’s NPF document.

While Streeting is in favour of using private capacity to bring down NHS waiting lists, he has said he is opposed to privatisation of the NHS.

“Nothing makes my blood boil more than people saying I want to privatise the NHS. Over my dead body would we privatise the NHS,” the shadow health secretary told Unison magazine earlier this year.

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