Labour has pledged to “get the NHS back on its feet” through cutting waiting times, creating thousands of extra appointments and reforming dentistry.

In its General Election manifesto, the party said “we have saved the NHS before, and the next Labour government will do so again”.

It pledged 40,000 more appointments each week, during evenings and weekends, paid for by “cracking down on tax avoidance and non-dom loopholes”, as well as a return to meeting NHS targets, with patients waiting no longer than 18 weeks from referral for consultant-led treatment.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a Boots pharmacy (Ian West/PA)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a Boots pharmacy (Ian West/PA)

On GPs, Labour promised to train thousands more and will guarantee a face-to-face appointment for all patients who want one.

It promises to deliver a “modern appointment booking system” to end the 8am scramble for appointments seen currently and will incentivise GPs to see the same patients to promote continuity of care.

More pharmacists will be given the chance to prescribe, while opticians and others will be able to make direct referrals to specialist services or tests. People may also be able to self-refer where appropriate.

Line graph showing the number of people on waiting lists for NHS hospital treatment in England from August 2007 to April 2024
(PA Graphics)

In other measures, the party said it will:

– Deliver more appointments by incentivising staff to carry out additional appointments out of hours and sharing waiting lists across neighbouring NHS hospitals to allow patients to be treated quicker.

– Use any spare capacity in the independent sector to ensure patients are diagnosed and treated more quickly.

– Commit to the NHS long-term workforce plan to train the staff needed for the future.

– Tackle strikes by working to “reset relations” with NHS staff on pay.

– Create a new ‘Fit For the Future’ fund to double the number of CT and MRI scanners so cancer and other illnesses can be caught early.

– Deliver the New Hospitals Programme to deal with crumbling buildings.

– Speed up recruitment of clinical trials into new treatments, giving more people a chance to participate through the NHS app.

A person holding a mobile phone displaying the NHS app (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
A person holding a mobile phone displaying the NHS app (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

– Ensure NHS trusts failing on maternity care are “robustly supported into rapid improvement”. Thousands more midwives will be trained, it said.

– Trial new Neighbourhood Health Centres, bringing together existing services such as family doctors, district nurses, care workers, physiotherapists, palliative care, and mental health specialists under one roof.

– Provide 700,000 more urgent dental appointments and recruit new dentists to areas that need them most. A reformed dental contract will focus on prevention and the retention of NHS dentists. A supervised tooth-brushing scheme for three to five-year-olds will target areas of highest need.

– Recruit an extra 8,500 new mental health staff to treat children and adults. New Young Futures hubs will provide open access mental health services for children and young people in every community.

– Bring back the measures in the Tobacco and Vapes bill to ensure the next generation can never legally buy cigarettes. It also said “Labour will ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children to stop the next generation from becoming hooked on nicotine.”

– Ban the advertising of junk food to children along with the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to under-16s.

– Halve the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest regions in England.

– Digitise the Red Book record of children’s health and enable vaccinations for babies and children as part of health visits.

– Work to implement the Cass Review recommendations on young people presenting to the NHS with gender dysphoria.

– Commission a new HIV action plan in England, with the aim of ending HIV cases by 2030.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive if NHS Providers, said: “There’s a long way to go – including enabling digitisation of health services on an industrial scale – but by investing in eliminating the £11 billion-plus repairs backlog and systematic renewal of NHS facilities, technology and buildings we will improve the quality and safety of patient care and give even greater value for money.

“Pledges to tackle race discrimination and health inequalities will be welcomed by trust leaders, as will making mental health services a priority.”

He said “support for the whole NHS workforce is crucial, from top down” and plans to regulate NHS managers “must help trust leaders to nurture a thriving workforce and keep improving patient safety and the quality of care”.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “With so many people waiting for treatments any plans that prioritise clearing the backlogs of care will be welcomed by health leaders. Not just in the acute sector but mental health, community health and primary care services as well.

“While the ambitions to provide 40,000 appointments a week and return to meeting performance standards are laudable, the NHS still has around 100,000 vacancies with staff already often working beyond their set hours.

“Added to that, crumbling estates are holding back NHS productivity. Promises to cut waiting lists and hit performance targets cannot be made on the back of asking hardworking staff to do more and without more capital investment.

“So we welcome the Labour Party’s commitment to invest in new equipment and improve the NHS estate.

“The focus on a progressive smoking ban, clamping down on underage vaping and introducing a junk food advertising ban before the watershed are all measures that could help improve people’s health.

“The pledge to halve the gap in healthy life expectancy between the areas with the highest and lowest levels of deprivation in England echoes our call for this to be a priority for the incoming government.”

The British Dental Association said “Labour have pledged to start the ball rolling on fundamental reform of NHS dentistry.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said “the broad ambitions for health and care set out in Labour’s manifesto tick many of the right boxes”, but the specific commitments “lack some concrete detail and are unlikely to deliver the scale of change the party is promising”.