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‘We must look to our neighbours in Europe for how they run their health systems and what works’



‘We must look to our neighbours in Europe for how they run their health systems and what works’

With Labour’s landslide victory declared, Sir Keir Starmer took to the stage for celebration, and a promise: that “change begins now”. Nowhere is that more sorely needed than our health. Along with the premiership, Sir Keir has inherited a nation commonly referred to as ‘the fat man of Europe’ thanks to two thirds of British adults being overweight or obese; cancer treatment lags two decades behind the rest of the continent, and record numbers are too ill to work. The NHS, stretched to breaking point, would need 685 years to clear the current waiting list backlog according to May figures, with almost 7.6 million people awaiting treatment. No wonder that less than 25 per cent of us are satisfied with the NHS – a figure that was 70 per cent in 2010.

Labour will inevitably be hoping that the theme tune to their last electoral victory rings true: things can only get better. But there is no small challenge ahead for our new leaders, who must preside over an older generation experiencing more years of poor health, more doctors retiring early from burnout, and medical school place limits halting the flow of new recruits. 

Here, three experts share the health priorities they want to see Labour’s government and the new Health Secretary Wes Streeting take on.

Tim Spector

Geneticist and co-founder of ZOE health research company

“We have the worst health system in Europe, with the greatest levels of obesity, poor mental health and bad cancer outcomes, because we’ve failed over the last two decades to have any serious health policies on prevention – particularly around our diet, which is also among the worst in Europe, with almost 60 per cent of food being ultra-processed. 

“The first thing the Government needs to do is admit the scale of the problem. Taxpayers are funding nearly £100 billion a year because of the consequences of poor diets, including three million people unfit for work – money that could be used on prevention or improving our economy.

“Government-funded institutions like schools, universities, care homes and hospitals should have limits of 10 per cent on foods that can be ultra-processed, the same as many Mediterranean countries. We can’t just rely on a future of Ozempic jabs. Politicians here appear to have given up due to the power of the Big Food lobby. These junk food firms make £30 billion a year, but the rest of the country is paying for it.

“I think the NHS should be taken out of political control. In most other countries, it’s not the domain of the political party to run their health service; it’s too important, and it shouldn’t be political. It would be far better to be run by an independent group that had 10-year plans and a budget that wouldn’t require politicians having to answer for everything. That might also help keep focus where it really matters – on doctors treating people and offering lifestyle advice – rather than wasting time in a medical system that has become very bloated, inefficient and bureaucratic.

“Unfortunately, our entire system that was once the envy of the world has become pretty rotten. The time has come to look to our neighbours for how they run their systems and what works, and not be frightened to borrow from them; nor be scared to change.”

Henry Dimbleby

Former government food tsar and co-founder of Chefs in Schools

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