It will take Labour two terms in office to turn around the “existential” challenges faced by the NHS and social care, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said.
He said the challenges facing the NHS in England were “enormous” and without significant reform “it isn’t sustainable for the long term”.
Labour has announced £1.6 billion of health policies, including £1.1 billion for overtime payments to cut the 7.7 million-long waiting list for hospital treatment in England.
But Mr Streeting said the promises were only a first step in the reforms needed to transform the NHS.
He said the current state of the health service was also an economic crisis and he viewed his role as an “economic brief” within the shadow cabinet.
“Unless we get 7.7 million people off NHS waiting lists, not only are they waiting for months and months on end, often in pain and agony and unable to go about their daily lives, often they are unable to go to work either,” he said.
Mr Streeting has courted controversy from the Labour left by tackling the “sentimentality” around the NHS, telling a conference fringe event in Liverpool: “If people want a shrine, sign up to a religion. The NHS is a public service and it’s one that is failing far too many people.”
With lengthy ambulance waiting times, problems with getting GP appointments and hospital treatments “we’ve reached a point now that not only have we broken one of the fundamental promises of the NHS, which is that it’s always there for us when we need it, but the NHS is also going through an existential challenge”.
Faced with an ageing population and problems with chronic disease “that’s a future that means unless we reform the NHS, it isn’t sustainable for the long term”.
Mr Streeting said Labour would address the immediate crisis and put the NHS and social care on a sustainable footing.
But he added: “We know this is going to take time. We’re honest about the fact that this is a project, a plan that will be 10 years in the making.
“But if we make the right decisions now to grip the immediate crisis and make the right long-term reform judgments – as we will – then for the next 75 years we will have a National Health Service and National Care Service that fulfils the fundamental promises made by the founders of our NHS 75 years ago.”