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NHS staff to be told to work weekends to cut hospital waiting lists

NHS staff will be told to work evenings and weekends under Labour plans to slash waiting lists, Wes Streeting has announced.

Neighbouring hospitals would be asked to share staff and pool waiting lists as part of a £1.1 billion drive to provide an extra 40,000 appointments a week. Overtime pay rates would be offered to NHS staff who agree to pick up any extra shifts.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Streeting, the shadow health secretary, revealed that senior NHS leaders who silenced whistleblowers would be sacked and barred from working for the health service again under Labour.

He also said the NHS was “over-reliant” on migrant workers – which he described as “problematic” – and he would like to see the number brought down.

Streeting said he “shares Treasury cynicism” about how the NHS spent money, adding that levels of productivity must improve.

Earlier this week, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, unveiled the policies at the centre of his general election campaign with a Tony Blair-style pledge card.

One of the six pledges was to cut NHS waiting times by scheduling 40,000 more appointments each week. Sir Keir said this would be paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and non-dom loopholes.

Streeting told The Telegraph he intended to oversee “the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history”, claiming it was “a plan so good that the Conservative Government did a smash-and-grab on it”.

He said it would take time to recruit more doctors, nurses and midwives, “but in the meantime there are practical things that can and should be done to get patients seen faster”.

Under Labour’s plan, hospitals would run evening and weekend surgeries, which the party believes would allow them to do a week’s worth of operations in one day.

Staff and resources would be pooled across a region made up of around five hospitals for these shifts. Patients would be offered appointments at nearby hospitals, allowing them to be treated faster.

Earlier this week, a group of doctors warned that NHS managers were destroying the careers of whistleblowers who raised concerns about patient safety.

More than 50 doctors and nurses told The Telegraph they had been targeted after raising concerns about more than 170 patient deaths and nearly 700 cases of poor care.

Asked what he would do about that, Streeting said: “Senior leaders who silence whistleblowers will be sacked – and they will not work in the NHS again. I can’t emphasise this strongly enough. We’ve seen review after review, report after report, about the culture in the NHS and the silencing of whistleblowers.

“This is a matter of patient safety – in some cases, it has been a matter of life and death. Unless we are robust about this, we’re not going to see the culture change that the NHS desperately needs.”

NHS figures, published earlier this year, revealed that one in five NHS staff in England are non-UK nationals. Healthcare workers from 214 countries are employed in the health service, and the proportion of roles filled by non-British nationals has risen to a record high.

“The NHS is over-reliant on migrant workers,” said Streeting. “That’s problematic for three reasons. Firstly, we are recruiting from countries on the World Health Organisation red list with severe healthcare shortages of their own. So it’s unethical.

“Secondly, we are turning away thousands of straight-A students from studying medicine each year because we’re capping their aspiration, and there has been a short-termist mindset that says ‘don’t bother training our own homegrown talent, we’ll recruit from overseas’. I think that is deeply unfair on bright UK students who could serve the NHS.

“And thirdly, it’s a long-term risk to the country because there is a global shortage of healthcare workers, so we should not assume that we will always be able to draw on that global workforce. So there’s a strategic risk there too.”

He said he saw it as “part of my job” to assist with the task of bringing down net migration and “reducing reliance on workers from overseas”.

Streeting also delivered a tough message to the NHS about its productivity levels, saying: “I want to send the strongest possible signal to the Department of Health and NHS England this side of the election. When it comes to Treasury cynicism about the NHS, how it spends money, and to what effect, I share the Treasury’s cynicism.

“And when it comes to improving NHS productivity, Rachel Reeves and I will be working in lockstep to repair the relationship between the Treasury and the Department of Health, but even more importantly to deliver better results for patients and better value for taxpayers’ money.”

An internal NHS review into efficiency found that hospitals were struggling to treat more people despite higher funding and extra staff because thousands more patients were stranded on wards with nowhere to go.

Streeting said he had been “inundated” with responses to his recent call to NHS staff to let him know of “everyday working practice that drives you up the wall – that is wasting your time, wasting patients’ time, wasting public money”.

He said these ranged from wasting time trying to book leave on outdated HR systems to having to re-order handwritten notes that had been scanned in the wrong order. The Telegraph

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