Politics LIVE: Rishi Sunak accused by Keir Starmer at PMQs of ‘prolonging misery’ over strikes and going from ‘clapping to sacking’ nurses

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was accused by Keir Starmer of choosing to “prolong the misery” over strikes at PMQs.

Sir Keir also claimed the Government had “gone from clapping the nurses to sacking the nurses” through its new minimum strike legislation.

The PM clashed with Sir Keir Starmer at the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the New Year amid a backdrop of crippling public sector strikes.

Sir Keir said:“If the prime minister had negotiated with the nurses before Christmas - they wouldn’t be on strike. So why is he choosing to prolong the misery rather than end these strikes?”

In response to the new strike legislation that could allow bosses of key public services to sack employees who refuse to work, he said: "When I clapped nurses I meant it. His response to the greatest crisis in the history of the NHS is to threaten to sack our nurses.”

Mr Sunak said he had always been “clear” that he wants to have “constructive dialogue” with the trade unions.He defended the minimum safety legislation outlined yesterday, saying it is a “simple proposition” which would balance union need to strike with supplying life-saving care for those who need it.

It comes as up to 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales went on strike on Wednesday in a dispute with the Government over pay.

Paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians from the Unison and GMB unions are taking part in staggered strikes across a 24-hour period.

PM ‘registered with NHS GP'

12:06 , Miriam Burrell

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he is registered with an NHS GP but has used “independent healthcare” in the past, as PMQs gets underway for the first time this year.

No NHS dentists in Doncaster are waiting months for an appointment, how long he had to wait for last NHS dentist appointment

When asked about how the long Prime Minister had to wait for his last NHS dentist appointment, Mr Sunak replied by saying there are more NHS dentists across the UK with more funding to get the treatment.

New strikes Bill ‘shouldn’t be controversial'

12:08 , Miriam Burrell

The Prime Minister was asked why patients “always wait longer” under Tory leadership by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Rishi Sunak said the minimum safety legislation, proposed by the Government in response to recent strikes, is a “simple proposition” and “it’s important to balance strikes with people’s access to life-saving treatment”.

Mr Sunak said the Bill “shouldn’t be controversial” and pointed to similair legislation in France and Spain.

Sunak claims to tackle NHS wait times

12:11 , Miriam Burrell

When quizzed on lengthy NHS wait times by Sir Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak said he has eliminated two-year wait times last year, and the Government is on track to eliminate those waiting 52 weeks by next spring through “record funding” and more surgical hubs.

PM quizzed on cancer patient support

12:14 , Miriam Burrell

Sir Keir Starmer asked when cancer patients will get the certainty of “quick care that they had under Labour”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed Labour has “absolutely no understanding of the situation”.

He said there are “record levels” of cancer treatment.

He said: “What’s terrifying is...people not knowing whether they call 999 if they will get the treatment they need.”

PM asked about ‘radicalisation of young men'

12:24 , Miriam Burrell

Teachers are having to develop their own resources for boys “brainwashed” by Andrew Tate’s misogyny, the Prime Minister was told.

He was asked if he will support teachers to crack down on the “radicalisation of young men”.

Rishi Sunak said £2 billion has already been invested in schools and he pointed to the Online Safety Bill that improves protection for children.

PM: Labour ‘always run out of other people’s money’

12:28 , Miriam Burrell

MP Fiona Bruce asked Rishi Sunak if he would committ to no unfunded spending committments.

The Prime Minister said the Government must safeguard public services, and said “we must be disciplined on unfunded spending”.

He criticised Labour’s spending plan by saying: “They always run out of other people’s money.”

Government gone from ‘clapping to sacking nurses'

12:33 , Miriam Burrell

Sir Keir Starmer claimed the Government had “gone from clapping the nurses to sacking the nurses”.

The Labour leader quoted a Government report that said long NHS waiting times were a result of “10 years of managed decline”.

He added: “As a result, 7.2 million people are now waiting for treatment. He says he wants to be held to account over that.

Rishi Sunak replied: “We have a very clear plan to bring the waiting lists down and it is one that the NHS supports.

“I tell you what the NHS doesn’t need, what they don’t need is Labour’s only idea, which is for another completely disruptive, top-down, unfunded reorganisation buying out every single GP contract.”

Labour: ‘Why is PM choosing to prolong misery rather than end strikes?'

12:37 , Miriam Burrell

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said if the Prime Minister had negotiated with nurses and ambulance workers they would not be on strike.

He asked the Prime Minister: “So why is he choosing to prolong the misery rather than end these strikes?”

Rishi Sunak said: “We’ve always been clear that we want to have constructive dialogue with the unions. That is also why when it comes to the issue of pay we have accepted in full the independent recommendations of pay review bodies.

“[Starmer] talks about wanting to end the strikes. The question for him is simple then: why does he not support our minimum safety legislation?”

“We all know why … it’s because he’s on the side of his union paymasters, not patients.”

PM ‘can’t tell us how much he will reduce wait lists'

12:47 , Miriam Burrell

Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister “can’t tell us how much he will reduce waiting lists by or when”.

“Last month, 1.4 million people waited more than four weeks for a GP appointment. When Labour left government you were guaranteed an appointment in two days. When does the Prime Minister expect to get back to that?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “When it comes to waiting lists we have already eliminated two-year wait lists – done last year. We are on track this spring to eliminate those waiting 18 months, with a clear plan to go further to eliminate those waiting 52 weeks by next spring.”

Starmer accused of having ‘absolutely no understanding’ of cancer patient care

12:51 , Miriam Burrell

Sir Keir Starmer asked Rishi Sunak when cancer patients will “once again get the certainty of quick care that they got under Labour”.

He said: “This is not just about routine care, there could be nothing more terrifying to be told you might have cancer, that’s why the last Labour government brought in a guarantee you’d be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

“Today, 50,000 people are waiting longer than that...so, when will cancer patients once again get the certainty of quick care that they got under Labour?”

Mr Sunak accused Mr Starmer of having “absolutely no understanding of the situation”.

The Prime Minister said: “What happened to cancer referrals during Covid? They went down by almost two-thirds. That was because of a pandemic that they went down.”

PM condemns Andrew Bridgen comments

13:05 , Miriam Burrell

Rishi Sunak appeared to condemn comments made by Andrew Bridgen, saying “it is utterly unacceptable to make linkages and use language like that”.

MP Matt Hancock asked the Prime Minister about the “disgusting, antisemitic, anti-vax conspiracy theories” that led to Mr Bridgen’s suspension as a Tory MP.

Mr Sunak said: “Can I join with my right honourable friend in completely condemning those types of comments that we saw this morning in the strongest possible terms.

“Obviously it is utterly unacceptable to make linkages and use language like that.

“I’m determined that the scourge of antisemitism is eradicated. It has absolutely no place in our society. I know that the previous few years have been challenging for the Jewish community and I never want them to experience anything like that ever again.”

10yo has ‘10 teeth black with decay’

13:12 , Miriam Burrell

Labour MP Simon Lightwood called on the Prime Minister to “stop dithering” over “dental emergency”.

He referenced the case of a six-year-old girl in Wakefield who he said “has never seen an NHS dentist”.

Mr Lightwood said: “She has 10 teeth which are black with decay and is often crying with pain. Her father feels helpless. He’s called every dentist in Wakefield for a place, but hasn’t managed to secure one.

“Over 25 per cent of five-year-olds in Wakefield already have visible tooth decay.”

Rishi Sunak said he was “very sorry” to hear about the girl’s condition, and would “look into that specific one more closely”.

“We have recently reformed the NHS dentistry contract, hundreds of millions of pounds of more funding, and more dentists, which should make a difference around the country. But I will write to him on the specific case.”

PM does not have private healthcare, Downing St says

13:15 , Miriam Burrell

Rishi Sunak does not currently have private healthcare cover, Downing Street has said.

Following the Prime Minister’s disclosure in the Commons that he has used private healthcare in the past but is now registered with a NHS GP, his press secretary said he no longer had private cover but declined to say when that ceased.

“In principle, he believes that the personal health details of individuals should remain private, but given the level of interest and in the interests of transparency he has set out that he is registered with a NHS GP,” she said.

“He has used private healthcare in the past. He doesn’t have private healthcare cover. I am not going to get into timelines.”

PM asked about detained Brit in Hong Kong

13:54 , Miriam Burrell

Conservative former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called on the Prime Minister to threaten to withdraw common law from Hong Kong over the detention of a jailed British newspaper publisher.

Sir Iain said he had met with the son of Jimmy Lai, who founded the now-defunct Apple Daily in Hong Kong, saying: “He is a British citizen and a British passport holder and he now faces a trial at the end of the year in which he can be incarcerated, under the new national security laws, for life.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “He knows the actions we have already taken with regard to Hong Kong, not least providing refuge for hundreds of thousands of people here, and being robust in standing up to what we believe to be Chinese aggression, and indeed an undermining of the settlement that we fought so hard to achieve.”

Mr Sunak said he would sit down with Mr Smith to talk about the case in detail.

Pictured: Prime Minister’s Questions

13:56 , Miriam Burrell


Live coverage ends

14:03 , Miriam Burrell

That’s all for our live coverage of PMQs today. Please check in next week.