02 August 2023

Doctor attacks Sunak’s ‘amazing’ claim striking staff are behind waiting times

02 August 2023

Rishi Sunak faced heavy criticism from a junior doctor for insisting that striking doctors are to blame for record high NHS waiting lists.

A&E doctor Olivia hit out at his “amazing” claim and reminded the Prime Minister during a radio phone-in on Wednesday that “a happy workforce is your responsibility”.

Mr Sunak sought to argue that the wave of industrial action by NHS workers was behind the long delays patients are facing before getting treatment.

But waiting times had already hit record highs when the unprecedented wave of strike action began with nurses walking out in December last year.

Olivia, from Newcastle, who did not give her second name, told him live on LBC: “I think it’s amazing we’re blaming the increase in waiting lists on doctors going on strike.

“You’re losing staff because we are undervalued and it’s not just doctors, it’s everyone, we’re all leaving.

“You’re the Prime Minister, you’re the Government, your staff aren’t happy – that’s your fault. And ultimately that’s not good for patients because retaining staff is one of the bedrocks of making sure you have good patient safety.”

Mr Sunak had argued junior doctors and consultants were to blame for not accepting pay deals like other medical staff have done.

Waiting lists were growing long before the pandemic and strike action

“That’s what’s causing the waiting lists to go up, I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

“I would say to them I’m very grateful and respectful of the incredible job you do but we all have a shared mission to bring the waiting lists down.”

The latest official figures show that 7.47 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of May – the highest since records began in 2007.

As nurses kicked off the wave of industrial action with their first walkout in December 2022, the official estimate had 7.2 million people on the waiting list.

Royal College of Nursing director for England Patricia Marquis said Mr Sunak’s comments add “insult to injury”.

She added: “Blaming nurses for the state of the NHS is a low blow. Nursing staff voted to strike last year out of concern at deteriorating care standards and spiralling waiting times.

“Waiting lists were growing long before the pandemic and strike action – and the Prime Minister should take responsibility for the knife-edge position of the NHS and not point the finger.”

Mr Sunak has made resolving long waiting times one of his five priorities, but conceded that waiting times are “going up”.

However, he insisted people can “see light at the end of the tunnel” on high inflation, which he committed to halve to around 5% by the end of the year.

The latest figures had the rate in which prices are rising going down from 8.7% in May to 7.9% in June.

Mr Sunak told LBC he was “making progress”, adding: “Is that as fast as I’d like? No. Is it as fast as anyone would like? No.

“But the numbers most recently that we had show that we’re heading in the right direction, inflation is coming down, and I think people can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

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