Health Sec says NHS strikes must end to slash waiting lists and meet key Sunak pledge

3 December 2023, 16:47 | Updated: 3 December 2023, 17:00

The new Health Secretary has said that health worker strikes are preventing the Tories from getting NHS waiting lists down.
The new Health Secretary has said that health worker strikes are preventing the Tories from getting NHS waiting lists down. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Chay Quinn

The new Health Secretary has said that health worker strikes are preventing the Tories from getting NHS waiting lists down.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Victoria Atkins suggested getting the backlog down is relying on NHS worker strikes being stopped, as she was asked about Rishi Sunak's pledge to cut the lists before the end of the year.

The Government are currently seeking to impose new "minimum service levels" which limit the ability of public sector workers to strike - while also trying to strike deals with the unions to end 18 months of unprecedented strike action in the health service.

Read More: 'Morgue monster' David Fuller allowed to abuse bodies for 15 years amid 'persistent failures' by NHS hospital bosses

Ms Atkins became Health Secretary just under three weeks ago during a Cabinet reshuffle by Rishi Sunak, and has made tackling the disputes with doctors one of her top priorities.

Her approach has produced success, with the Government last week agreeing a deal with consultants in England to potentially end a long and bitter dispute over pay.

She said the Government is "throwing everything we can" at resolving the industrial disputes in the NHS, suggesting that is the best way to deliver on the Prime Minister's pledge.

Cutting waiting lists was one of five pledges the Conservative Party leader made at the start of the year, along with halving inflation this year, growing the economy, making sure national debt is falling, and passing new laws to stop small boat crossings.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has looked to score political points in recent weeks by pointing out that waiting lists have gone up since the Prime Minister set the goal of reducing them.

At Prime Minister's Questions last month, Sir Keir said the NHS waiting list stood at 7.8 million - half a million more than in January.

Ms Atkins said putting a stop to industrial action would prevent the NHS from having to reschedule appointments during the walkouts.

Rishi Sunak has made cutting the NHS waiting list backlog a priority before next year's election
Rishi Sunak has made cutting the NHS waiting list backlog a priority before next year's election. Picture: Alamy

The Cabinet minister has struck a conciliatory tone when it comes to dealing with health unions, saying she wants to build a "new relationship" with the British Medical Association (BMA).

She told the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: "We have an enormous amount of goodwill at the moment from the BMA and from others, and I'm keen to encourage that."

Her language has proved markedly different to that of her predecessor Steve Barclay, who referred to the BMA as having a politically "militant stance".

The deal on the table for consultants, set to be put to union members, will see the country's top doctors earn more money from January, although it will not be paid until April.

The junior doctors' dispute remains unresolved, however. Their opening gambit was for a 35% pay rise.

Ms Atkins has said the Government cannot meet such requests but is open to fresh talks to resolve the row.

Asked by the BBC about the chances of Mr Sunak hitting his waiting lists pledge ahead of the next election, Ms Atkins replied: "We very much are looking to meet those targets but I need, please, the consultants to pass this settlement that we have put forward.

"I hope very much that doctors in training will be able to reach a settlement with us as well.

"And then, if we have removed the threat of industrial action from the NHS, then those people, who for example, in the October set of actions, we had 40,000 appointments being rescheduled each day, well then that stops and we are able to get on with the business of looking after people."

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Texas Wildfires

Huge wildfire grows to become largest in history of Texas

The business will reduce its workforce by around 1,500 jobs, but subject to consultation.

Sainsbury's to axe 1,500 jobs across UK in bid to save £1 billion a year

Donald Prentice Patience was murdered

'Heroin addict Labradoodle thief' faces life in jail after murdering 'loving father', as body found in duvet cover

Julian Knight

Police drop investigation into MP Julian Knight following allegation of serious sexual assault

Israel Palestinians Rafah Photo Gallery

Israeli troops ‘fire on people waiting for aid’ as Gaza death tolls hits 30,000

The Hairy Bikers star, Dave Myers, has died aged 66.

Hairy Bikers star Dave Myers' wife pays tribute to 'wonderful, brave man' after his death at 66

Red Bull's Team Principal broke his silence as part of a live television interview ahead of the first practice session of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull chief Christian Horner breaks silence in first live TV interview since inappropriate behaviour accusations surfaced

An image released by the IDF of the scene

Dozens killed in Gaza aid queue after Israel opens fire on civilians, as IDF says most victims run over by trucks

Nicaragua Crackdown Scouts

Nicaragua crackdown ‘tantamount to crimes against humanity’ – UN

The council tenants have now been invited to meet with a housing and support officer.

Hundreds of homes evacuated after Raac panels discovered, with nearly 300 council tenants impacted

Prince William has visited a London synagogue

Holocaust survivor tells William she misses Kate 'so much', as prince handed flowers for his wife on synagogue trip

Paris Atmosphere – Liverpool v Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League Final

Leap-year newspaper raises money and laughs in France

Sergei Sokolov

Editor of top independent Russian newspaper detained for ‘discrediting military’

Exclusive
Homeless people sleeping on the pavement outside retails chain stores store along Oxford Street in central London

Rough sleeping spike 'fuelled by government moving refugees out of hostels after 28 days', council leader says

Body Shop shuts 75 branches across the UK: Full list of store closures revealed

Body Shop shuts 75 branches across the UK: Full list of store closures revealed

"I am also a Wonka! I think we can do this!" Paul said in his video.

'Let's create the Wonka-Verse!': Willy Wonka actor from disastrous event wants to meet Timothée Chalamet