Grilled about his plans for Britain’s recovery from the Covid crisis, the prime minister chose to emphasise economic growth over health measures.
Pointing to the recent growth in wages, Mr Johnson told the BBC: “I’ve given you the most important metric – never mind life expectancy, never mind cancer outcomes – look at wage growth.”
Opposition parties pounced on the prime minister’s remarks, with Labour accusing him of showing an “outrageous” disregard for the health of British citizens.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told The Independent: “Boris Johnson starts his conference with the most chilling words ever spoken from a prime minister dismissing the importance of cancer outcomes.”
The Labour MP added: “If cancer incidence and survival rates across the poorest matched the wealthier there would be 19,000 fewer deaths per year. Life expectancy has stalled for those in the poorest areas.
“There is no levelling up without levelling up health. It’s now clearer than ever that all Boris Johnson offers is just glib words and no action.”
The SNP’s Ian Blackford also shared the clip of Mr Johnson’s comments in an interview with BBC Northern Ireland. “Every citizen should see this insight into the thinking of our PM,” said the party’s Westminster leader.
Mr Blackford claimed the prime minister was “literally prepared to sacrifice our health”.
Dr Clive Peedle, a consultant clinical oncologist and NHS campaigner, said: “As a cancer doctor in the North East of England, I find Boris Johnson’s comments abhorrent.”
The NHS cancer specialist added: “Wage growth is only beneficial if wealth inequality is addressed, but his government has no intention of tackling this.”
Macmillan Cancer Support also responded to Mr Johnson’s remarks. “People facing the fear and trauma caused by disruption to their cancer treatment and care need to know that they are at the top of the government’s priority list and cannot be forgotten,” said Steven McIntosh, an executive director at the charity.
He added: “Any measure of ‘levelling up’ for our country must focus on urgent progress for people facing delayed cancer care, poorer cancer experience or outcomes.”
Among the many Labour MPs sharing the clip of Mr Johnson’s BBC interview, left-wing stalwart Ian Lavery tweeted: “Ghastly appalling disregard for our people.”
Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting – the shadow secretary for child poverty – said millions of people do mind about cancer outcomes. “This is stomach-turning, insightful and outrageous,” he tweeted on Mr Johnson’s remarks.
Life expectancy for men has fallen for the first time since records began, government figures revealed in September – as the higher-than-usual deaths caused by the pandemic begin to make an impact.
More than half a million cancer patients are missing out on vital healthcare support due to severe staff shortages across the NHS, new research from Macmillan Cancer Support revealed last month.
One in four people who were diagnosed with cancer in the last two years have gone without proper support from a specialist nurse during that time, equating to roughly 630,000 patients, the charity said.
The row over health measures comes as Mr Johnson drafts in a former senior military commander to carry out a far-ranging overhaul of leadership in the NHS and social care sector.
The government said General Sir Gordon Messenger, an ex-vice chief of the defence staff, would conduct the most far-reaching review the sector in England has seen in 40 years.
Elsewhere in his interview with BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said the Northern Ireland Protocol “could in principle work” but it will be a case of “fixing it or ditching it”.
The prime minister did not rule out triggering Article 16 to suspend the crucial part of his Brexit deal with the EU. Asked if he planned to trigger Article 16 during the Conservative Party conference next week, Mr Johnson replied: “That depends on the response from the EU.”