Sunak and Barclay’s absence amid NHS pressure ‘inexplicable’ – Labour

Labour has blamed Conservative “mismanagement” of the NHS for the pressure facing the health service, as it hit out at the “inexplicable” absence of the Health Secretary.

The current set of pressures was branded “intolerable and unsustainable” by medics on Monday, amid a growing chorus of concerns about the strain on the health service.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of being nowhere to be seen, even as healthcare workers struggle to treat patients.

The Labour MP called it “completely inexplicable as to why, given the front pages today, given what we’ve seen throughout Christmas and the new year, not a single government minister, whether it’s the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary, has raised their head or shown their face to say exactly what they are doing to grip this crisis”.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting (Lucy North/PA)

Rising flu cases and the impact of Covid-19 have been cited as among the factors that have caused the pressure on the NHS, with more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declaring critical incidents over the festive period.

Mr Streeting said there were “immediate” options available to the Government that would help the situation, but said his party had “given up hope” that the Conservatives were going to deal with the issue.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he blamed “more than 12 years of Conservative mismanagement” for creating a situation in which “people no longer feel confident that emergency medicine will be there for them when they need it”.

“Indeed, the NHS seems to be actively deterring people from going to accident and emergency departments unless it’s life threatening, because they are overwhelmed.

“And I think that’s the sense of jeopardy which is frightening so many people across the country.”

Warnings came from various quarters on Monday, with British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Professor Phil Banfield branding the situation “intolerable and unsustainable”.

The Liberal Democrats suggested that it might be time to recall Parliament to discuss the issue.

“This is a life or death situation for huge numbers of patients. The NHS is collapsing in front of our eyes whilst the Prime Minister and Health Secretary are nowhere to be seen,” health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said.

“This is a national crisis and the country will never forgive the Government if they refuse to recall Parliament whilst hundreds of people die in parked ambulances or hospital corridors.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS staff do an incredible job and we recognise the pressures the NHS is facing following the impact of the pandemic.

“That’s why we’ve backed the NHS and social care with up to £14.1 billion additional funding over the next two years and this winter we have provided an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds. We also awarded a 9.3% pay rise to the lowest earners in the NHS last year.

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“The Health Secretary and ministers have met with unions several times and have been clear their door remains open to further discuss how we can work together to improve the working lives of NHS staff.”

Mr Barclay’s only tweet on Monday was about NHS Couch to 5K app, calling it “free and fun and a great way to get active at the start of 2023”.