Sunak admits failure to cut NHS waiting lists

Sunak accepted a £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan that deportation flights to Rwanda would take place before the next general election…reports Asian Lite News

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.”

The shadow heath secretary, Wes Streeting, said: “Rishi Sunak has finally admitted what has been blatantly obvious to everyone else for years – the Conservatives have failed on the NHS.

“Where Sunak has failed, Labour will succeed in getting the NHS back on its feet. We did it before and we will do it again. We will cut waiting lists with 2 million more evening and weekend appointments, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status.”

In October, it emerged that the number of people waiting longer than 18 months for NHS treatment in England was growing. Data analysed by PA Media 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 7.21m outstanding treatments in January 2023. In November, NHS England figures showed 7.61m 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 ministers could avoid strikes by offering better pay deals. And government ministers have acknowledged privately 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 would make delivering his pledge all but impossible. Nevertheless, Sunak sought to blame striking workers for his failure.

Asked on Monday by TalkTV about the increased waiting lists in England, 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.”

Morgan also 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 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 said.

Also during the interview, Sunak accepted a £1,000 bet with Morgan that deportation flights to Rwanda would take place before the next general election, which is expected in the autumn.

He has previously set the target of sending people who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes, including those crossing the Channel in small boats, to the east African country by the spring.

The UK has paid Rwanda £240m under Sunak’s plan to “stop the boats” – another of his five key pledges – and ministers expect to pay an additional £50m next year. But no one has yet been removed due to legal challenges that resulted in the supreme court last year finding the scheme unlawful.

Sunak is trying to revive the policy by passing legislation deeming Rwanda a safe country and ratifying a new treaty with Kigali. The Rwanda bill is making its way through the House of Lords.

After shaking hands with Morgan on the terms of the Rwanda bet, Sunak said: “I want to get the people on the plane. I am working incredibly hard to get the people on the planes.”

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