THE UK health system must end its “begging bowl culture” and instead focus on economic growth, Health Secretary Wes Streeting has said.

The Labour MP has said the Health and Social Care Department he leads at Westminster must undergo a “major shift in mindset” as he painted health services as beggars.

Speaking at the Future of Britain Conference 2024 at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change on Tuesday, Streeting said his health department is now an “economic growth department” that will not “simply” focus on public services.

Arguing that improving the health of the nation can help to “drive the economic growth of the country”, he went on: “It’s a rethinking of the role of the department.

“It also means ending the begging bowl culture, where the only interaction the Treasury has with the Department of Health and Social Care is we need more money for X, Y and Z.

“The starting point has got to be, ‘We will help you achieve your mission for growth and improve the prosperity and lives of everyone in this country by making sure that we are with you lockstep in driving growth’.”

Responding, professor of political philosophy Martin O'Neill said: “Hard to believe that Wes Streeting (a) condemns the Department of Health and Social Care for its ‘begging bowl culture’, and (b) says that the Health department’s main focus should be on economic growth (!).

O'Neill added: “The man is a facile pantomime villain.”

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Journalist and disability activist Frances Ryan said: “Growth nonsense aside, it really is remarkable to hear a Labour Health Secretary describe calls for funding as ‘the begging bowl’ - as opposed to, y’know, resources to pay for GP appointments, cancer treatment, and hip surgeries.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Streeting acknowledged the public’s “legitimate” concerns about the future of the NHS.

The Health Secretary said there is “palpable anxiety” among the British public about whether the NHS will survive – but that he is “optimistic” about the future.

Streeting has also announced plans to divert billions of pounds of NHS funding from hospitals to GP services.

Although the boost in funding for GPs has been welcomed by experts, there have been severe warnings about the impact the Labour policy will have on hospitals.

Streeting is also planning to divert NHS funding into private services in order to tackle waiting lists, which he has said are his "number one priority" since taking office.