Rishi Sunak blames striking doctors for pushing up NHS waiting lists in fiery exchange with A&E worker

The prime minister is taken to task over his pledge to cut waiting lists, which last month jumped to a record 7.5million waiting for treatment

Archie Mitchell
Wednesday 02 August 2023 17:23 BST
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<p>Prime minister Rishi Sunak defended his record on NHS waiting lists (Euan Duff/PA)</p>

Prime minister Rishi Sunak defended his record on NHS waiting lists (Euan Duff/PA)

Rishi Sunak has blamed striking doctors for pushing up NHS waiting lists in a fiery exchange with an A&E worker.

The prime minister was taken to task over his pledge to cut soaring waiting lists, which last month jumped to see a record 7.5 million patients waiting to start treatment.

Asked whether he was failing to deliver on his pledge, Mr Sunak said “we were making progress” but said staff walkouts had undermined that progress and driven up waiting lists.

He said the government had taken a “firm and fair” point of view in accepting recommendations from pay review bodies.

But, during an LBC phone-in, Mr Sunak said while nurses and some NHS workers had accepted the government’s offer, “unfortunately we still have groups of people who are not doing that”.

“They are striking and that is the reason that the waiting lists are going up,” he said.

A furious A&E registrar named Olivia said it was “amazing” to hear the PM blame spiralling waiting lists on doctors going on strike.

“You are losing staff because we are undervalued,” she said.

The British Medical Association member said: “It is not just doctors, it is everyone, we are all leaving.

“A happy workforce is your responsibility. You’re the prime minister, you are the government, your staff aren’t happy and that’s your fault.”

Mr Sunak told the doctor: “Fundamentally, you and I are not going to agree, because your union is asking for a 3 per cent pay rise.

“I don’t think that’s reasonable, I don’t think that’s affordable and I don’t think that’s fair.

“Millions of others have accepted the recommendations and I would urge your union to do the same.”

But nursing union the RCN said Mr Sunak’s comments “add insult to injury”. “Blaming nurses for the state of the NHS is a low blow,” said director Patricia Marquis.

She said NHS staff took industrial action because of the deteriorating standards of care and spiralling waiting lists - which were growing “a long time before the pandemic and strike action”.

“The prime minister should take responsibility for the knife-edge position of the NHS and not point the finger,” she said.

The PM has made cutting waiting lists one of his priorities for 2023, pledging in January that “lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

However, hospital leaders have warned they are not confident they will hit key NHS targets to reduce the waiting list in 2024 and 2025.

And last month, health minister Maria Caulfield conceded that the record number of Britons now waiting for treatment will “probably will go up higher”.

Two leading health think tanks have also warned the prime minister is “highly unlikely” to hit the target.

The Health Foundation said the chances of cutting the overall waiting lists by the next election, expected in autumn 2024 were “vanishing small”, while the King’s Fund said overall waiting lists would probably “continue to rise between now and the next general election”.

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