Edward Leigh repeatedly asked the health secretary: "What is his plan?"
A Tory MP has blasted the health secretary, Steve Barclay, for having “no plan” to solve the crisis engulfing the NHS — while suggesting that Labour does.
Edward Leigh, who represents Gainsborough, asked Barclay “what is his plan?” after talks with health unions aimed at preventing further strike action broke up without agreement.
In an intervention in the Commons, Leigh asked why the NHS was struggling to cope with a surge in flu cases when European health services were coping “far better”.
And he added: “We can’t leave the Labour Party to have a long-term plan and we don’t.
“How are we going to reform this centrally controlled construct so the people of my age pay taxes all their life and their only right is enjoying the back of a two-year queue.
“What is his plan?”
In response to Leigh’s intervention, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted:
Leigh was speaking in response to a statement from Barclay on the state of the NHS, which is currently battling multiple problems including long ambulance delays, record workplace vacancies, a shortage of beds and industrial action by staff who are protesting over pay and working conditions.
In response Barclay said NHS England was working on a workforce plan, and that the government has already set out an elective recovering plan.
“We are making progress on those longest waits,” he said, adding that pressures from the pandemic had placed “similar strains” on other healthcare systems.
Barclay told MPs that the pressures of flu and Covid had put a “real strain on frontline services” and that the government would book beds in care home to free up hospitals.
“First we will block book beds in residential homes to enable around 2,500 people to be released from hospitals where they are medically fit to be discharged,” he said.
He also said he had drawn up an emergency recovery plan for the NHS that would look at solving the immediate crisis, preparing for next winter, and longer term prevention of ill health to safeguard the system.
Labour has accused the government of offering “sticking plaster” solutions and criticised the health secretary for failing to reach an agreement with the unions that could have stopped further strikes.
Ambulance staff are set to strike on Wednesday and again on January 23 after the talks broke down, while nurses are scheduled to walk out next week on January 18 and 19.
Union representatives branded the talks “bitterly disappointing” and said there had not been any “tangible outcome” on pay.
Streeting said there had been an “abysmal failure” in Barclay’s talks with nurses and paramedic representatives on Monday, telling the Commons: “Every cancelled operation, delayed appointment and ambulance disruption due to strikes could have been avoided if he had just agreed to talk to NHS staff about pay.
“Today he could have opened serious talks to avert further strikes, instead he offered nurses and paramedics 45 minutes of lip-service. If patients suffer further strike action, they will know exactly who to blame.”
The shadow health secretary also criticised government plans to introduce new laws that would require minimum service levels during strike action, which the unions have branded an attack on workers’ rights.
Streeting said: “Let me ask the secretary of state: in the ‘NHS sacking the staff Bill’, how many nurses is he planning to sack? How many paramedics is he going to sack? How many junior doctors is he going to sack?
“This government has the audacity to ask NHS staff for minimum service levels. When are we going to get see minimum service levels from government ministers?”
Barclay replied: “It is right that we are engaging with the trade unions. I was pleased to meet the staff council of the NHS today and indeed the chair of the NHS Staff Council, Sara Gorton, said the discussions had made progress.
“Notwithstanding one trade union leader who wasn’t in the talks giving an interview outside the department to comment on what had and had not been said in those talks, but we want to work constructively with the trade unions on that.”