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The King's Fund responds to the health and care policies in the 2024 Labour Party manifesto, 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. Bolstering out-of-hospital care and focusing on preventing illness as well as treating it would lead to a healthier population and a sustainable health service.  

‘But the individual pledges in the manifesto are, at best, only a policy down-payment on achieving those longer-term reforms. In and of themselves, the specific commitments set out by Labour lack some concrete detail and are unlikely to deliver the scale of change the party is promising.  

‘The manifesto also makes a number of key commitments without clarity on the spending implications for health and care budgets.’ 

On bringing down NHS waiting times, Sarah said

‘New stats released just this morning show the waiting list for planned NHS care has increased on the previous month and now stands at 7.6 million. Long waits for care have been brought down before, but it takes time. Labour’s aim to clear the backlog within five years will take real effort and absolute focus, and may mean the big, transformational reforms set out in this manifesto such as moving health care closer to home will be slower to realise. 

‘The party’s promise of 40,000 extra appointments a week is based on offering weekend and evening appointments for planned treatment and outpatient clinics. This approach has already brought down long waits in parts of the NHS, but scaling this up will rely on having enough NHS staff to take on the extra shifts – not a given when so many report high levels of stress and burnout, and when industrial action remains unresolved.'

On primary and community care, Sarah said:  

‘One part of Labour’s health and care plan is an aspiration to move more care out of hospital and closer to communities. Refocusing the NHS towards primary and community care would lead to a more efficient and sustainable health care system, but this has been the stated policy aim of successive governments over several decades and has not been realised because ministers have not put their money where their mouth is. If Labour really want to come good on this promise and avoid repeating history, it must be more than warm words; they will need to take some tough decisions on where funding, staff and political energy are directed.’ 

On social care, Sarah said:  

‘The Labour manifesto largely dodges the issue of social care reform. The promises on social care reform could best be described as a plan to come up with a plan. The current social care system in England is not fit for purpose and many people’s needs go unmet, yet it is one of the most overlooked and ignored policy challenges in recent decades. 

‘Labour’s plan for a fair pay agreement for care workers would help attract more people to work in the sector, but unless that increase in pay is matched with commensurate increases in local government funding, it will further squeeze already strained care provider and local council budgets.’ 

On public health, Sarah said:  

‘We warmly welcome the Labour party’s commitment to revive legislation to introduce a phased smoking ban. The smoke-free generation law would be a real game changer for the nation’s health.  

‘The manifesto also includes a good range of other measures to help keep people – particularly children – healthy, such as using existing laws to restrict junk food advertising along with preventing children from buying vapes and high-caffeine drinks. Our own polling shows significant public support for measures like these which would help people to make healthier choices.  

‘Labour has previously committed to take a cross-government approach to health, recognising that the things that make us healthy aren’t just in the gift of the NHS. However, the manifesto is light on detail of how this would actually work. Addressing a decade of stalled life expectancy is surely one of the biggest challenges of our age and should be a priority for whoever forms the next government.’ 

Notes to editors

For further information, or to request an interview, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 020 7307 2585. 

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all. 

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