Labour Party general election manifesto 2024: NHS Confederation analysis

Analysis of the Labour Party's health and care pledges in their general election manifesto.

13 June 2024

Key points

  • Cut NHS waiting times with 40,000 more appointments every week.

  • Introduce shared waiting lists to pool resources across neighbouring hospitals to reduce waiting lists. 

  • Double the number of cancer scanners.

  • A Dentistry Rescue Plan to recruit more dentists where they’re needed most.

  • Recruit 8,500 additional mental health staff.

  • Open Access Mental Health Support Hub in every community.

  • A Child Health Action Plan.  

  • Regulation of NHS managers. 

This briefing analyses the health and care pledges set out in the Labour Party’s manifesto for the 2024 general election. The full manifesto can be accessed here:

  • The Labour Party has pledged to cut NHS waiting times, and has made this one of its six ‘first steps for change’; its most succinct and condensed offer to the electorate. 

    To do this, Labour has set out that it will pay staff overtime rates to do extra shifts out of hours, which will be costed by efforts to scrap non-dom status to recoup more tax from the wealthiest. 

    Labour has also said it will set up shared waiting lists and drive more collaboration between hospitals. 

  • The Labour Party manifesto commits to the publication of regular, independent workforce planning, across health and social care. It has also committed to delivering the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. The manifesto also commits to ‘resetting’ relations with NHS staff. 

  • Following the headline theme from its health mission launched in January 2023, the manifesto reiterates that “the National Health Service needs to move to a Neighbourhood Health Service”, with more care delivered in local communities. 

    As part of this, the Labour Party has pledged to train “thousands more GPs” and guarantee a face-to-face appointment for people that want one. The manifesto also sets out plans to create a Community Pharmacist Prescribing Service to give more independent prescribing rights to pharmacists to reduce pressure on GPs. 

    Elsewhere, the manifesto sets out the plans to trial Neighbourhood Health Centres to bring together a range of healthcare professionals across physical and mental health under one roof. 

    On social care, the Labour Party manifesto said the party would seek to “build consensus for the longer-term reform needed to create a National Care Service”, sidestepping the issue of funding. Instead, it set out a pledge to introduce national standards to deliver consistency of care. The manifesto also states an intention to “develop local partnership working between the NHS and social care on hospital discharge” and to “enhance partnership working across employers, workers, trade unions and local government to establish a Fair Pay Agreement in adult social care. The Labour Party would also ‘task regulators with assessing the role social care workers can play in basic health treatment.”

  • The key mental health pledges in the Labour Party manifesto are to recruit an additional 8,500 mental health staff in their first term if elected. It has also pledged to set up open access Young Futures Hubs to provide mental health support to children and young people in every community. 

    The manifesto also commits to modernising the Mental Health Act. While not in the manifesto, Shadow Secretary of State Wes Streeting MP has previously said Labour ensure the legislation was in their first King’s Speech, if elected.

  • The manifesto has an explicit section on reducing health inequalities, with a pledge to close the Black and Asian maternal mortality gap. 

    Additionally, the Labour Party has set the objective of halving the gap in healthy life expectancy between the areas of highest and lowest deprivation in England at the centre of their health mission. They have also pledged to “prioritise women’s health.”

    There are also a number of wider policies targeted at the social determinants of health in the Labour Party manifesto – banning vapes from being advertised to under 16s, ensuring all hospitals integrate “opt-out” smoking cessation interventions in to routine care, a ban on junk food advertising to under-16s and a ban on the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to under-16s. There are also pledges to build on the One Safety Act to keep children safer online, and reform gambling regulation.

  • First announced at Labour Party conference in September 2023, the manifesto commits to a “Fit for the Future” fund to double the number of CT and MRI scanners, with a particular driver being to catch cancer earlier. It has also committed to delivering the New Hospitals Programme. 

    As part of their industrial strategy, the Labour Party has said it would develop an NHS innovation and adoption strategy in England, including a plan for procurement, giving a clearer route to get products into the NHS along with reformed incentive structures. It has said it would use the NHS app to offer more people the chance to participate in clinical trials, making them more efficient and accessible. 

    Further on the NHS app, the manifesto commits to making local service performance information available via it, along with medical guidelines for the treatment they should get. The Labour Party has also pledged to digitise the Red Book, giving parents access more support and clarity on vaccination schedules and other checks. 

  • The Labour Party manifesto sets out a Dentistry Rescue Plan which would provide 700,000 more urgent dental appointments. It would also recruit more dentists to areas that need them most – so-called ‘dental deserts’ – by incentivising them through reform to the dental contract. The manifesto also says they will seek to fundamentally move to a focus in prevention and retention of dentists. 

    Elsewhere, the manifesto commits to the introduction of a supervised tooth-brushing scheme for 3- to 5-year-olds targeting areas of highest need to reduce the number of children needing hospital treatment for tooth decay. In his speech at the manifesto launch, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer shard his experience of visiting Alder Hey Children’s hospital earlier this year, where he was horrified to learn that the most common reason for children aged between five and nine to need an operation is because of tooth decay. 

  • As set out in their letter to the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers last year, the Labour Party has said it will implement professional standards and regulate NHS managers, whilst also establishing a Royal College of Clinical Leadership. In this section, the manifesto asserts that managers need support as well as accountability. 

    Like the Conservative Party, the Labour Party has said it will work to implement the recommendations of the Cass Review. 

Confed viewpoint 

We welcome the mission approach of the manifesto, having called in our priorities for a new government for a cross-government mission for health improvement led by the Prime Minister. Following the speech our chief executive Matthew Taylor made to NHS Confed Expo 2024 on 12th June, we are pleased to see halving the healthy life expectancy gap between areas of highest and lowest deprivation as a driving objective of the Labour Party’s health mission. 

There has been some critical response to the aims to employ staff to do more overtime to reduce waiting lists, with a number of key sector voices pointing out many staff already work overtime, and that will morale at an all-time-low, staff may feel unable to take on more shifts despite additional pay. We have welcomed the pledge, whilst emphasising that investing in capital is critical for improving productivity and tackling waiting lists. In our press response, we also emphasised the high level of burnout and demoralisation across the workforce, indicating that additional overtime pay may not in and of itself encourage staff to do more when they already feel so overstretched and undervalued. 

In our press response we emphasised that the key to driving down waiting lists and improving performance standards will be for the NHS requires to achieve its ambition to increased productivity. As set out in our recent analysis, members emphasised that  which this is only possible by reversing decades of underinvestment in capital is a critical part of. We estimate this will require an additional £6.4bn for each year of the Spending Review. So, whilst it’s good to see the Labour Party commit to the delivery of the New Hospitals Programme and for them to set out their ‘Fit for the Future’ fund, we would want to see them go much further if elected to government. 

Children and young people’s health and concerns about the times they are waiting for care has been a key theme from our discussions with members over the last few years. So, they will be pleased to see Labour’s Child Health Plan included in their manifesto, included the commitment to have an open access Young Futures Hub for mental health support in every community. Also on mental health, the commitment to reform the Mental Health Act is a key priority for our members and is welcome.

We welcome the balanced discussion of NHS managers in the Labour Party’s manifesto. In setting out that managers need both support and accountability, the manifesto indicates that a Labour government would resist manager-bashing that we have historically seen across political parties. As we recently highlighted, managers make a critical contribution to the running of the NHS and ensure clinicians can provide the best possible care. 

Our members will welcome the recognition that integrating health and care services will improve the treatment patients receive, and that more of this care needs to happen outside hospitals. Integrated Care Systems have a crucial role to play in leading this change that goes beyond better care but will improve efficiency and optimise use of local assets and resources. 

Central to shifting care closer to home will be reforms to the NHS’ counterpart, social care, and we welcome Labour’s long-term commitment to a sustainable National Care Service, a fair pay agreement and moving to a more preventative system. We would like to see more detail around a roadmap and interim plans, noting that the service is facing a crisis that needs to be addressed urgently.

The key criticism of the manifesto has been a lack of detail – there are number of high-level pledges that lack a roadmap for how government and the NHS would get there. This includes and is particularly important in implementing the proposed ‘Fit for the Future’ fund. Getting technological change in the NHS right has an enormous potential to secure a more sustainable future but also risks if not considered alongside the change in pathways and skills required to make the most of it. Couple with this,
There is also a lack of detail on the broader settlement for the NHS. Nuffield Trust ⁠analysis notes that increases detailed in the manifesto amount to real terms increases of just 1.1 per cent - spend per head frozen when adjusted for an ageing and growing population. This makes the next few years the tightest period of funding in NHS history and could undermine any recovery or new ambitions set out in the document.

Even so, regarding spending commitments, it’s difficult to see how the measures set out can be introduced without more tax rises, which is something the Labour Party has categorially ruled out for the three types of tax that raise most revenue – National Insurance, income tax and VAT.