Sunak admits failure over promise to cut NHS waiting lists | Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has acknowledged that he has failed to keep his promise to cut healthcare waiting lists.

The prime minister made doing so one of the key commitments on which his own competence would be judged when taking office. But, with the situation in England actually worsening by many measures, the grand pledge was downgraded late last year, before Sunak then acknowledged failure on Monday.

“We have not made enough progress,” Sunak said when asked about his commitment to cut NHS waiting lists during an interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV. Asked if that meant he had failed, the prime minister replied: “Yes, we have.”

Last October it emerged that the number of people waiting longer than 18 months for NHS treatment in England was growing. Data analysed by the PA news agency last month suggested that, despite recent decreases in the waiting list in England, it was still higher than when Sunak’s pledge was made.

The list stood at 7.21 million outstanding treatments in January 2023. In November, NHS England figures showed 7.61 million treatments were yet to be carried out.

NHS workers, many of whom have seen substantial pay cuts in real terms under Conservative governments, have been exercising their right to take industrial action to secure better terms.

Unions have consistently said that ministers could avoid strike action by offering better pay deals. And government ministers have privately acknowledged they would end up needing to do so despite having spent months publicly insisting they would take no such step.

Health leaders warned Sunak in December that allowing the industrial dispute to grind on for longer would make delivering his pledge all but impossible. Nevertheless, Sunak sought to blame striking workers for his failure.

A British Medical Association official, speaking at the time, said: “It is up to the government to stop the strikes, to stop wasting more time, money and risking further disruption to patient care. Put a credible offer on the table and we can avert the need for further strike action.”

Asked by TalkTV about the increased waiting lists in England on Monday, Sunak replied: “Yes, and we all know the reasons for that. And what I would say to people is: look, we have invested record amounts in the NHS: more doctors, more nurses, more scanners. All these things mean that the NHS is doing more today than it ever has been. But industrial action has had an impact.”

During the interview, Morgan told Sunak about his 79-year-old mother’s experience with NHS care three months ago after she had a heart attack. The broadcaster said that despite being driven to the hospital in an ambulance his mother waited on a trolley in an A&E corridor for nearly seven hours before being seen, in a scene she compared to a “war zone”.

The prime minister said the account was “shocking” and that performance in A&E and with ambulance waiting times were “not good enough”.

However, he denied that the Tories had failed the NHS since 2010, citing the backlog created by the coronavirus pandemic. “We can’t escape that. When you shut down the country in the NHS for the best part of two years, that has had an impact on everything since then. And we just have to recognise that reality,” he sai.

The full interview is due to be shown on the Piers Morgan Uncensored YouTube channel at 2pm and TalkTV at 8pm on Monday.


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