19 July 2023

Sunak tells Starmer to ‘unglue yourself from the fence’ over health pay offer

19 July 2023

Rishi Sunak has urged Sir Keir Starmer to “unglue himself from the fence” and call on consultants and junior doctors to end their strike action.

The Prime Minister suggested the Labour leader was taking inspiration from Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil activists by failing to budge on the issue of health pay as the pair clashed over NHS waiting lists.

The two leaders also swapped jibes on their financial policies, with Mr Sunak joking Sir Keir’s comments made a “very strong case for doing maths all the way to 61” rather than the initial ambition of 18.

Sir Keir countered: “If he’s so good at maths he’ll know I’m 60, not 61.”

Consultant doctors and hospital-based dentists will be on strike for 48 hours from 7am on Thursday until 7am on Saturday.

It follows the longest period of industrial action in the history of the NHS by junior doctors, which lasted five days from last Thursday to Tuesday morning.

The Government last week announced pay increases for millions of public-sector workers. It said most eligible dentists and doctors will receive at least a 6% pay rise, while hospital consultants will receive a 6% rise.

Sir Keir opened Prime Minister’s Questions by noting the NHS waiting list had 7.2 million people on it when Mr Sunak took office nine months ago before asking for the current number.

Mr Sunak replied: “The reason that the NHS waiting lists are higher today than they were then – after actually being stable for the first months as we put in place new initiatives – is very simple, and that’s because the NHS has been disrupted by industrial action.

“We’ve put very clear plans in place to bring down waiting lists in urgent and emergency care, and primary care and ambulances, and outpatients and electives.

“Those plans were working, and will continue to work, but we do need to end the industrial action, so I’d ask (him) if he does care about bringing the waiting lists down, does he agree with me that consultants and junior doctors should accept the pay deal that the Government offered?”

At one stage Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle reminded Mr Sunak it was questions to the Prime Minister rather than the Opposition leader after he again asked Sir Keir to agree that doctors should accept the pay offer.

Sir Keir joked that Mr Sunak had “slightly forgotten how” PMQs works given he had missed the last two sessions.

Sir Keir went on to claim Mr Sunak had “nicked” Labour’s NHS staffing plan, adding: “It’s the same old story, they mess up the NHS and look at Labour to fix it. Come the election, the country will be doing the same.”

Mr Sunak went on to insist the Government’s plan is “fully-funded” and this will be demonstrated in the autumn statement.

He also said: “We have had the recommendations of independent pay review bodies, including for the NHS.

“Now, I believe the right thing to do was to accept those independent recommendations, but that involves taking difficult and responsible decisions to deliver those pay rises without fuelling borrowing, inflation, taxes and debt.

“On this crucial issue, while his MPs are back on the picket lines, yet again on this issue he simply refuses to take a position.

“It’s the same old story, he should stop taking inspiration from his friends outside and unglue himself from the fence.”

Sir Keir replied: “In that burst of nonsense what you didn’t hear was a single word about how he’s paying for it. Labour’s NHS workforce plan is fully funded by scrapping the non-dom status that he so adores.

“You know the one, the ‘non-dom tax thing’ as he calls it, that allows some of the wealthiest people in the country to avoid paying tax here. Is that loophole so important to him that he’d rather have billions in unfunded promises than simply making billionaires pay what they owe?”

Can the Prime Minister confirm that apart from the fact that there aren't 40 of them, and the fact most of them aren't new, and that many of them aren't even hospitals, everything is going fine with the 40 new hospitals?

Mr Sunak said Labour’s policy has paid for “five different things”, adding: “Everybody knows that I’m a fan of doing maths to 18 but (Sir Keir) makes a very strong case for doing maths all the way to 61 quite frankly.”

Sir Keir joked: “If he’s so good at maths he’ll know I’m 60, not 61.”

The Labour leader went on to raise issues at Hillingdon Hospital ahead of Thursday’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, and he highlighted a report from the National Audit Office which showed the Government is on track to break a key promise to build 40 new hospitals by 2030.

Sir Keir said: “Can the Prime Minister confirm that apart from the fact that there aren’t 40 of them, and the fact most of them aren’t new, and that many of them aren’t even hospitals, everything is going fine with the 40 new hospitals?”

Mr Sunak replied: “Not only are we going to deliver on our manifesto commitment to build 40 new hospitals across the country by 2030, we’re not just stopping there, we’re also delivering 100 hospital upgrades across the country and crucially over 100 new community diagnostic centres to speed up treatment for people.”

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