Rishi Sunak refuses to accept NHS in crisis and won’t say if he uses private GP

Nero fiddling while Rome burns? – Owl

Rishi Sunak has refused to accept that the NHS is in crisis, despite acknowledging the “enormous pressure” the health service is under this winter.

Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk

The prime minister also refused to say whether he uses a private GP, insisting the issue is a “distraction from the things that really matter”.

Asked about overwhelmed emergency services, record waiting lists and whether the NHS was “in crisis”, Mr Sunak told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “The NHS is undeniably under enormous pressure.”

Pointing to the Covid pressures, the PM added: “Recovering from Covid is going to be tough and we’re seeing that play out on our TV screens every day and in communities up and down the country.”

Mr Sunak refused three times to discuss reports that he uses a private GP, saying: “As a general policy I wouldn’t ever talk about me or my family’s healthcare situation … it’s not really relevant, what’s relevant is the difference I can make to the country.”

Asked if he was registered with a private GP, Mr Sunak said: “Yeah, my dad was a doctor. I grew up in a NHS family.” Asked why he won’t tell people if he used a private GP, he replied: “It’s just a personal choice. I think healthcare is somewhat private.”

It comes as Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen, in an interview with The Independent, said Mr Sunak’s pledge to bring down waiting lists would fail without pay being addressed and said the upcoming strike would be the biggest of its kind in the world.

Ms Cuillen also said Mr Sunak needs to “come clean” about whether he uses a private GP. “I think he needed to come clean,” the RCN boss told the BBC. “As a public servant he is elected by the public, so he is accountable to the public – and when you’re accountable to the public you have to be honest with them.”

The NHS is set for more disruption when nurses strike on 18 and 19 January, while ambulance staff are striking on 11 and 23 January. Junior doctors will walk out for three days in March if they back industrial action at Monday’s ballot.

Mr Sunak said he wanted to have a “reasonable, honest, two-way conversation about pay” with the unions – but suggested health secretary Steve Barclay would only talk about next year’s pay settlement when he meets NHS union chiefs on Monday.

Mr Barclay has hinted at pay increases on the table if the unions will agree to efficiency savings – but will try to discuss the 2023-24 pay review process, which starts in April, rather than this financial year’s pay row.

Despite Mr Barclay’s previous refusal to discuss pay, Mr Sunak denied it amounted to a shift in the government’s stance. “The door has always been open,” the prime minister told the BBC. “When it comes to pay, we’ve always said we want to talk about things that are affordable, that are reasonable.”

Pressed again if ministers were willing to talk about pay for this year, he said: “We’re about to start a new pay settlement round for this year [2023-24]. Before that process starts, the government is keen to sit down with the unions and talk about pay, and make sure they understand where we’re coming from.”

His comments come after Ms Cullen said the RCN would be willing to “meet the government halfway” on pay – effectively cutting the union’s pay demands from 19 to 10 per cent.

Ms Cullen said there was a “chink” of optimism and detected a “little shift” in the government’s stance on pay from Mr Sunak’s comments on Sunday – but said she still did not expect Mr Barclay to engage with this year’s pay demands.

“What the government wants to talk about is pay going forward … and that’s not going to avert strike action that’s planned for 10 days’ time,” she told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. “It must it must be about addressing pay for 2022-23.”

She added: “The prime minister talked about coming to the table, now that’s a move for me, because I have said, let’s meet halfway,” she said. “Grasp the nettle, come to the table. I can’t negotiate on my own, and I can’t negotiate on the airwaves.”

Mr Barclay is expected to unveil extra funding to expand bed capacity in hospitals and care homes as part of a package to be announced on Monday.

Hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent on block buying thousands of care home beds, according to the Sunday Times, in a bid to free up 1,000 to 2,000 hospital beds and ease pressure on emergency services.

Government officials reportedly believe there are enough spare beds at Care Quality Commission approved facilities, and could have a positive impact within four weeks.

The government’s plans will also propose more “virtual wards”, in which patients are “remotely monitored” in their own homes, using wearable devices, according to the Telegraph.

The government has been accused of trying to blame the NHS pressures on Covid. Mr Sunak said: “I think it’s not right to ignore the impact that Covid has had. Has the NHS had pressures before? Of course it has, but Covid has undeniably had an enormous difference.”

Prof Clive Kay, chief executive of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, asked if it sounded like the prime minister understood the gravity of the crisis facing the health service, said: “No, if I’m honest.”

Prof Kay told BBC: “I don’t think I heard [the PM] grasp the fact that this is a really, really difficult situation. This is not just a winter 2023 problem. We need some realistic conversations. The suggestion that’s going to be a quick fix, a sticking laster, it’s not a reality.”