KEIR Starmer has defended backing the use of the private sector to drive down waiting lists in the health service, despite his leadership pledge to “end outsourcing in the NHS”. 

In his first big speech of the year on Wednesday, the Labour leader said his party would bring forward a “Take Back Control Bill” which would devolve power from London to communities across the UK. 

It comes as Rishi Sunak insisted he would be able to “get to grips” with the crisis facing the NHS although he admitted the health service is “under enormous pressure”. 

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Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Starmer said: “We’re not talking about privatising the NHS. The NHS has always used elements from the private sector, GPs are an example of that.”

Pressed on his pledge to end outsourcing, he added: “Outsourcing of some issues and functions I don’t think has been very effective. 

“If you take the NHS, the NHS has always used GPs in private practice for many, many years the NHS has referred patients to the private sector to have operations.

“Let me be clear, we’re not talking about privatising the NHS, we’re talking about using the private sector effectively. 

“Free at the point of use is an absolutely governing principle as we go into this review, but we do need change and reform.”

Starmer added that his party would consult over the next few months what the plan was and promised a “10-year plan for the NHS under the next Labour government”. 

He added: “We’re not going to back down the first time somebody says, well I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t change this.”

The chair of BMA Scotland told the Sunday National that a “depoliticised” debate was needed to solve the issues facing the NHS. 

Rishi Sunak chaired a rare emergency meeting at Downing Street on Saturday for emergency talks with health leaders.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee on Friday to “reduce unnecessary attendances at A&E”.