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Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting backed wider use of private healthcare in the NHS today in a move which placed him on a fresh collision course with Labour ’s hard left.

The frontbencher believed sending NHS patients for private treatment could help slash delays and backlogs unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the 74-year-old health service was “going through the biggest crisis in its history”.

Six million people are on a waiting list in England – one in nine of the population.

Mr Streeting told the Institute for Government think tank: “I think it is morally unacceptable that we now have in this country a two-tier health system where the number of people paying to go private has effectively doubled over the course of a decade, and against the backdrop of record high NHS waiting lists we have got a situation where those who can pay to jump the queue do and those who can’t are left behind.

NHS waiting lists have hit a record high ( PA)

“I’ve had some criticism, particularly from the left, who said this is ‘a privatisation agenda’ and ‘how could you reconcile using the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists?’

“The answer is twofold – I don’t think the British people would buy an ideological argument that says because of our ideological principle you should be waiting longer; secondly, I do not think a situation where working class people who can’t afford to pay private wait longer is a left-wing position.

“I think making sure you’re paying for people to get care as fast as possible within the NHS – whether that’s using the private sector or not – is a left-wing position.”

Mr Streeting, who was treated for cancer last year and had a kidney removed, stressed his “ambition is to make the NHS so good that no-one ever feels forced to go private”.

The MP is tipped as a future party leader ( AFP via Getty Images)

The 39-year-old MP, tipped as a future party leader, also signalled he did not support inflation-busting pay rises for all NHS staff, indicating wage hikes should be targeted at the lowest-paid.

The NHS Pay Review Body is expected to publish its recommendations later this month(JUN).

Mr Streeting told the Mirror there “is a distinction to be drawn between people on high salaries and people on lower salaries in the current climate”, with price rises running at 9%.

Questioned about importing foreign health workers to ease the NHS staffing crisis, he vowed to bolster recruitment of British employees.

“Our priority would be developing and nurturing homegrown talent,” he said.

“There are some ethical and moral challenges with taking really good, qualified people from countries that desperately need them because we as a country can’t be bothered to develop our own homegrown talent.”

He also called for an overhaul of NHS pension rules to encourage some staff not to take early retirement so “people can stay in the service for longer”.

The Shadow Health Secretary added: “It’s crazy that hasn’t happened.”

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