Shortening the mental health waiting times to a month and focusing on preventive health measures are not easy tasks
He gave us a glimpse of a way he wants to change lives – and if he can get into government and if he really knows how to deliver on that promise, then it will really change lives. “I want the UK to be the healthiest nation in the world … We would shift the priority in the NHS away from emergency care to prevention,” he said. He also promised that Labor would guarantee that support for a mental health problem would be available in less than a month. Neither of these promises are tiny, easy-to-realize things. They will cost a lot of money and take up enormous bandwidth to get a Labor government anywhere near.
Keir Starmer’s conference speech is probably best remembered for the heckling he received from a strange bunch of Labor delegates – and the way he countered them. The theme of the conference was that he wanted Labor to be a serious party again, even if some of its members disagree. “Shout slogans or change lives, conference!” He replied after a heckler continued speaking from the ground.
Guaranteeing adequate support for a mental health problem within a month is almost against the laws of physics, as almost all mental health services in this country have to wait a long time. The pandemic made things worse. But it was awful before either of us even heard about Covid.
The work plans are designed to change the way waiting times are measured so that the focus is not on the first appointment where a person’s needs are assessed but treatment does not begin, but rather the second where patients get their regular one Received therapy. Right now, the gap between these two can be long as doctors advise patients that if they can afford it, they must go private.
It’s a situation reminiscent of the Blair years, when the wait for physical health problems was so long that the government feared public support for the NHS would crumble. This led then Health Secretary Alan Milburn to warn that the health service was in the “last chance saloon” and then to create hard goals to reduce those waiting times.
The NHS in general still enjoys great public support. But his ability to treat mental illness in a timely manner means that many people just don’t trust him to care for them, or worse, their children when their minds are sick. A party that really loves the NHS as much as Labor claims should be concerned about this and work on guidelines to remedy this.
Another departure from Labour’s convenient habit of merely paying tribute to the health service and questioning the Tories’ motives lies in Starmer’s emphasis on prevention. He has said in meetings with colleagues that he believes the key is “preventive public health” – although he has been wisely advised that no one would have any idea what he was talking about. In the conference room, his goal was to “prevent problems before they bite”.
Starmer is personally interested, as is his director of politics, Claire Ainsley. At the beginning of the conference, the leader held a question-and-answer session with Love Island star Amy Hart and young people, in which they discussed, among other things, psychological well-being. His front benchmarks also bring it up again and again.
Indeed, the government’s need to create a healthy society was one of the few clear themes at this conference. Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth talked about it a lot in his speech on Tuesday. He has held meetings with New Zealand government officials about their work on wellbeing and has been heavily influenced by the work of former NHS chief Nigel Crisp, who wrote a book called. wrote Health is done at home, hospitals are for repairs. Ashworth quoted it in the conference room: “There is a saying, ‘Health is done at home. Hospitals are there for repairs. ‘ It captures a fundamental truth: that health is created in our communities and depends on the conditions in which we live. “
Ashworth and other frontbenchers, including Ed Miliband, Starmer’s “key thinker”, are keen on the Welsh Future Generations Act, which requires public authorities to take long-term wellbeing into account in their decisions.
If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, it’s because David Cameron, the opposition leader, rambled about it. His party even produced posters with “general well-being” emblazoned on beautiful flower pictures. You would not have looked good in a yoga studio next to a cabinet of green juices. They also seemed to evaporate when the Conservatives entered the government.
In the meantime, things have changed. People understand – also as a result of the pandemic – that wellbeing is not only important, but also a serious issue. But making sure it doesn’t suffer the same fate as it did among the Tories will be a lot harder than staring at some eccentric hecklers.
Isabel Hardman is Associate Editor for The Spectator magazine. She writes a monthly health policy column for I