“Middle-class lefties” will not stop a Labour government from using private hospitals to tackle the NHS’s huge care backlog, the party’s shadow health secretary has pledged.

Wes Streeting rejected the idea that paying private health providers to treat patients amounted to a “betrayal” of the NHS and insisted that quicker treatment was more important than ideology.

He used an opinion column in the Sun on Monday to make clear that a Labour government would continue the Conservatives’ policy of using health service funds to pay private hospitals to treat as many of the millions waiting for NHS care as possible.

Setting out his party’s plans to revive the NHS, he said: “We will also use spare capacity in the private sector to cut the waiting lists.

“Middle-class lefties cry ‘betrayal’. The real betrayal is the two-tier system that sees people like them treated faster – while working families like mine are left waiting for longer.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme,he added: “Those who can afford it are paying to go private, are being seen faster and their outcomes and their life chances and their quality of life will be better.

“Those who can’t afford it are being left behind. Those tend to be people from working-class backgrounds like mine. I think that’s a disgrace.

“That’s why as the howls of outrage pour in … I take it as water off a duck’s back. I don’t think I could look someone in the eye who is waiting for months and months, sometimes over a year, in pain and agony for treatment, I couldn’t look them in the eye and tell them that they should wait longer because my principles trump their timely access to care.”

The campaign group Keep Our NHS Public criticised Streeting and said his remarks were an insult to those who wanted the NHS to provide all its own care.

Tony O’Sullivan, a retired NHS consultant paediatrician who is the group’s co-chair, said: “Streeting’s derogatory and dismissive comments directed at experienced healthcare staff and experts advocating for a fully public system are quite frankly an insult.”

“This is not an ideological argument, but a pragmatic one. Private healthcare takes away from the NHS both in terms of staff and resources, and is more expensive for the taxpayer.

“It makes zero sense to prioritise a private system while underfunding a public one, the model of which was previously independently ranked the best in the world.”

Streeting has aroused suspicion among some Labour MPs, health unions and NHS campaigners for his embrace of private healthcare as a way of cutting the backlog, which stands at 7.6m treatments in England alone.

Last year he told LBC that the NHS would be privatised and patients charged to use it “over my dead body”. The two-tier system between those who can and cannot afford to go private was “unconscionable and immoral”, he added.

“If there’s spare capacity at the hospital up the road we will use NHS resources to buy that capacity and give it [to] people free at the point of use,” he said.

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