Boris Johnson has come under fire for his lack of empathy over the treatment of a four-year-old boy who was left sleeping on the floor of a hospital because of a bed shortage.
Jack Williment-Barr had to be covered with coats by his mother Sarah Williment to keep warm as he waited for a bed at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) with suspected pneumonia.
A photograph of the youngster has been widely shared on social media, turning his treatment into a political row – just days before the polls open for Thursday’s General Election.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was sent to the hospital in a bid to quell the storm – and said he had apologised to the family.
An adviser to Mr Hancock was said to have been punched outside the LGI following the visit, but footage which appeared to be of the incident showed the aide walking into a demonstrators’ arm.
West Yorkshire Police said it was “unaware” of any reports to the force in relation to the incident and the hospital declined to comment on any aspect of the visit.
Labour accused the Conservatives of “bare-faced lying” over the incident.
“It is shocking that the Tories are so desperate to distract from a four-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor because of their cuts to our NHS that once again they have resorted to bare-faced lying,” a Labour spokeswoman said.
“This is a new low and the Conservative Party has serious questions to answer.”
Have video from Hancock leaving Leeds General just come through so you can see for yourself – doesn’t look like punch thrown, rather, one of Tory team walks into protestor’s arm, pretty grim encounter pic.twitter.com/hD1KwA72gG
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) December 9, 2019
A video posted to social media showed Mr Hancock being heckled by protesters as he left the hospital.
The Cabinet minister could be seen speaking on the phone and hastily entering a car, as demonstrators shouted “shame on you” and “you are not welcome in this hospital, you are not welcome in this country”.
Tried to show @BorisJohnson the picture of Jack Williment-Barr. The 4-year-old with suspected pneumonia forced to lie on a pile of coats on the floor of a Leeds hospital.
— Joe Pike (@joepike) December 9, 2019
Asked what he would say to Jack’s family, Mr Hancock told a reporter at the hospital: “It’s not good enough, and I’ve apologised. I think the trust have handled it very well. The staff here have been brilliant.
“And Jack’s family have been at pains to point out that the staff have been absolutely superb.”
He said he had made the unscheduled visit because he wanted to get “reassurance” from the trust that “they’re doing everything they can”.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said she hoped that “no-one involved in Labour politics has assaulted any person as part of our democratic right to protest” after the incident outside the hospital.
I sincerely hope that no one involved in Labour politics has assaulted any person as part of our democratic right to protest. There is absolutely no place for any form of violence verbally or physically & you harm your cause if you do. #NotInMyName
— Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) December 9, 2019
“There is absolutely no place for any form of violence verbally or physically & you harm your cause if you do,” she added.
Earlier in the day the Prime Minister Mr Johnson was criticised after he took a reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket after refusing to look at a photo of Jack.
Mr Johnson did not look down at the photo on the ITV political correspondent’s phone, instead saying he would “study it later” as he attempted to steer the conversation on to Tory investment in the NHS.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised the PM’s actions, and said: “Refusing to even look at an image of a child suffering because of Conservative cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris Johnson. It’s clear he could not care less.
“Don’t give this disgrace of a man five more years of driving our NHS into the ground. Sick toddlers like Jack deserve so much better.”
During an election visit to Bristol, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the treatment of a four-year-old boy lying on the floor in a hospital as a “disgrace”.
“He’s had nine years to properly fund the NHS.
“A child being treated on the floor is a disgrace to our society,” Mr Corbyn said.
In a move which will be seen by critics as an effort to distract from the case, Mr Johnson later told workers in the North East that he is “looking at” abolishing the BBC licence fee.
The Prime Minister said that while the Tories were currently “not planning to get rid of all TV licence fees”, the current system “bears reflection”.
After being asked whether he would abolish TV licences altogether, Mr Johnson replied: “Well, I don’t think at this late stage in the campaign I’m going to make an unfunded spending commitment like that, but what I certainly think is that the BBC should cough up and pay for the licences for the over-75s as they promised to do.
“But at this stage we are not planning to get rid of all TV licence fees, though I am certainly looking at it.”
The PM had earlier apologised to “everybody who has a bad experience” in the NHS after the story of four-year-old Jack emerged.
Ms Williment told the Daily Mirror her son was eventually moved to a ward, where he waited for five hours on a trolley before a bed was found at 3am.
Diagnosed with flu and tonsillitis, Jack was allowed to be taken home at lunchtime.