Boris Johnson faces backlash over refusal to look at photo of child on NHS hospital floor

Jeremy Corbyn said the exchange showed Mr Johnson ‘just doesn’t care’ after PM took more than a minute to address picture in interview

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
,Lizzy Buchan
Monday 09 December 2019 14:18 GMT
Boris Johnson grabbed journalist's phone and put it in his pocket

Boris Johnson has refused to look at a picture of a four-year-old boy forced to lie on the floor in an NHS hospital, eventually taking the phone of a reporter attempting to show it to him and putting it in his pocket.

The prime minister was confronted with the image of Jack Williment-Barr laid on a pile of coats while awaiting treatment for suspected pneumonia at Leeds General Infirmary.

Sarah Williment covered her son, with coats to keep him warm as he waited for a bed on Tuesday, eventually waiting for five hours on a ward trolley before a bed was found at 3am.

Jeremy Corbyn said the clip showed Mr Johnson “just doesn’t care” about the plight of the child languishing in a hospital corridor, while Labour’s Angela Rayner branded him “an utter disgrace”.

Mr Johnson was asked about the image by ITV reporter Joe Pike on the campaign trail, who said: “The PM grabbed my phone and put it in his pocket.”

Mr Johnson said he had been “told about the photo by the BBC” but he had not seen it when grilled repeatedly about the issue on the campaign trail in the north east.

He said: “We have every possible sympathy for everybody who has a bad experience in the NHS, and that’s why we are putting record investment into the NHS now.”

Pressed on how the image of the ill child made him feel, Mr Johnson said: “Let me tell you, I haven’t had a chance to look. I’ll study it later. I’ll give you an interview now.”

The prime minister tried to shift the conversation to deadlock over Brexit but the journalist challenged him for taking his phone and putting it in his pocket.

Mr Johnson then removed the phone and looked at the image, saying: “It’s a terrible, terrible photo and I apologise obviously to the family and those who have terrible experiences in the NHS.

“What we are doing is supporting the NHS and on the whole, I think patients in the NHS have a much, much better experience than this poor kid has had.”

He adds: “I am sorry to have taken your phone.”

Labour criticised the prime minister for his behaviour, saying it was “clear he could not care less”.

Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, said: “Refusing to even look at an image of a child suffering because of Conservative cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris Johnson. It’s clear he could not care less.

“Don’t give this disgrace of a man five more years of driving our NHS into the ground. Sick toddlers like Jack deserve so much better.”

And Liberal Democrat welfare spokesman Tim Farron said: “This is the moment the mask slipped. When confronted with the human impact of his government’s failure to properly fund our NHS, Boris Johnson chose to look away.

“This shocking lack of empathy shows why Johnson is not fit be prime minister. He simply doesn’t care about patients or their families being catastrophically let down by this Conservative government. It is unacceptable that hospitals are under so much pressure that they don’t have enough beds – especially for small children.”

Mr Johnson later twice refused to discuss the incident when challenged by media during a question and answer session in Sunderland.

Asked why he had not looked at the photo, he replied: “I am very proud of what we doing to rebuild Leeds General Infirmary. It’s one of the hospitals we will rebuild from the beginning. It will be a fantastic project.”

And challenged over whether his response to being shown the picture made him appear uncaring, he replied: “I’ve answered that question. We are not only investing in children’s services in Leeds but we are also rebuilding the whole Leeds Infirmary from top to bottom.”

Jeremy Corbyn brandished a copy of the Daily Mirror carrying Jack’s picture during a rally in Bristol.

“People ask questions about this, and I simply say this – Tories have had nine years to fund our NHS properly,” said the Labour leader.

“It is time to bring their regime to an end and elect a Labour government that is determined to fund our NHS properly.”

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