'It's simply fact': Deputy PM defends Rishi Sunak after he tells LBC strikes are to blame for NHS waiting lists

3 August 2023, 09:55 | Updated: 3 August 2023, 10:01

Rishi Sunak speaks to LBC's Nick Ferrari
Rishi Sunak speaks to LBC's Nick Ferrari. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Emma Soteriou

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has backed Rishi Sunak after he was criticised for telling LBC strikes are to blame for NHS waiting lists rocketing up.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The prime minister told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Wednesday that junior doctor and consultant strikes were to blame for the waiting list - now standing at about 7.9m - going up.

But he has since faced a backlash from the British Medical Association (BMA), with one doctor branding him a liar.

Deputy PM Oliver Dowden has since come out in support of Mr Sunak, telling LBC that his comments were "simply a fact".

"We’re not picking a fight with junior doctors and we’ve made a very reasonable pay offer but it is simply a fact that if doctors are not treating people because they’re on strike then that is going to add to waiting lists," he said.

He added: "I see the action that hospitals are taking in response to industrial action by doctors and one of the things they have to do sadly is cancel operations – so-called elective surgery – that adds to waiting lists.

"It is just a fact of industrial action and I think the Prime Minister is right to highlight that."

Read more: Rishi Sunak branded a 'liar' by A&E doctor after PM tells LBC strikes are to blame for NHS waiting list rocketing up

The Deputy Prime Minister notes waiting lists will 'grow' if junior doctors continue to strike

It comes after Dr Kiara Vincent, a 36-year-old ­accident and emergency medic in the East Midlands, told the Mirror: "It's lies, isn't it. Well before strikes and Covid, this has been a problem for a long time.

"I find it really difficult to go to work a lot of the time because I know I'm not going to be able to do the job I've been trained for.

"It's really hard knowing you're going to do a rubbish job through no fault of your own. The strikes are there because we want ­something better for our patients. We can't carry on like this.

BMA responds to Sunak's comment on strikes increasing patient waiting

"The work's hard, everyone is burnt out, the pay is not good enough, loads of my colleagues have left to work in Australia or New Zealand or even quit being doctors. The impact of strikes is nothing compared to the impact from the lack of staff and sickness and burnout."

Sara Gorton, Unison's head of health, said: "The Prime Minister is trying to distract attention from the ­Government's disastrous record on the NHS. It's dishonest to blame health staff for spiralling waiting lists.

"There wouldn't have been a day of action had the Government dealt with NHS pay properly last year."

Olivia, a junior doctor from Newcastle, told Mr Sunak on LBC that his "refusal to negotiate" has done nothing to improve staff morale of standards of care within the NHS.

But Mr Sunak hit back, telling Olivia he is "proud" of his government's record, having invested record sums since he became prime minister.

"Not only that, but just last week we announced the first ever long-term workforce plan for the NHS so we can deliver something that has been asked for for decades and for the first time as PM I’ve delivered it," he said.

Mr Sunak added that he would urge Olivia's junior doctors union to accept the independent pay offer of six per cent which other healthcare workers have accepted, including nurses.

Read more: 'You're the Prime Minister. Your staff aren’t happy': Sunak defends NHS record in testy exchange with junior doctor

"We were actually making progress…we eliminated the number of two year waiters, people waiting a really long time, we practically eliminated the number of people waiting one-and-a-half years," he told LBC.

“We were making progress on bringing the overall numbers down. What happened? We had industrial action."

Rishi Sunak joined Nick Ferrari at Breakfast to take your calls | Watch Again

Read More: Nadine Dorries is not 'properly representing' her constituents Rishi Sunak tells LBC after she pledged to quit

Read More: 'People are going to be put on it': Rishi Sunak defends Bibby Stockholm migrant barge insisting it is 'not a shambles'

In a testy exchange, Olivia said: "I think it’s amazing that we’re blaming the increasing of waiting list on doctors going on strike.

"You’re losing staff because we’re undervalued and it’s not just doctors. It’s everyone, we’re all leaving. A happy workforce is your responsibility. You’re the prime minister. You’re the government. Your staff aren’t happy.

"That’s your fault and ultimately that’s not good for patients because retaining staff is one of the bedrocks of making sure you have good patient safety."

Sunak comments on waiting lists.

Mr Sunak then asked Olivia to look at the long-term workforce plan. She hit back: "I’ve looked at it, I’ve read it! I get it. It’s great... but there’s going to be no one left."

But the prime minister refused to budge, telling Olivia that he will not agree to an “unreasonable” and “unaffordable” 35 per cent pay rise.

Read More: Rishi Sunak tells homeowner facing £2,700 monthly mortgage repayments: 'Talk to your bank'

Reacting to Mr Sunak's appearance on LBC, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: "The Tories have run down the NHS over more than a decade and left record numbers on waiting lists.

"Now Sunak has the audacity to blame doctors and nurses for rising waiting lists. They’re a convenient scapegoat for his failures.

"He hasn’t lifted a finger to end the NHS strikes."

It comes after Mr Sunak accepted the recommendations from all pay review bodies, meaning teachers, junior doctors, and police officers are set to receive a pay rise, with junior doctors being offered six percent.

The BMA has already rejected a five per cent pay offer from the government.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Rishi Sunak will call for an "era of action" on the climate

Sunak to call for 'era of action' on climate at Cop28 - despite watering down green measures at home

Released prisoner

Israeli military confirms release of six more hostages in Gaza Strip

Omid Scobie has insisted he never sent out a book including two royals' names amid racism allegations

Dutch translator on Omid Scobie's Endgame insists she was sent manuscript with two royals' names in race row

Lloyds banking group is closing more branches in 2024.

Lloyds group to close 45 branches as Labour pledges to keep banks back on the high street - is your local affected?

Hall and Oates

Hall and Oates row: Judge extends pause on Oates’ sale of stake in business

Hamas has claimed Israel is refusing to take back the bodies of the Bibas family

Hamas releases propaganda video of father of 10-month-old Kfir Bibas saying Israel refuses to take his family's bodies

Police clashed with Legia Warsaw fans

Three officers injured as Polish football fans unleash 'planned and systematic violence' on police ahead of Villa game

William and Kate dazzled on the red carpet as they brushed off Scobie's claims

William and Kate all smiles on red carpet as royals brush aside storm around Omid Scobie's book Endgame

Opec sign

Saudi Arabia extends cut in oil it sends to world in bid to boost prices

An 18-month row over pay, job security and conditions has come to an end, for now

'Provoke us again and we will respond in kind': Mick Lynch issues new threat to government after pay deal halts strikes

Matt Hancock appeared at the Covid inquiry on Thursday

Cummings a 'malign actor' and 'missed opportunities': 11 revelations from Matt Hancock's Covid inquiry appearance

Phillip Hancock

Man executed in Oklahoma over double killing in 2001

Milei has backed his country's claim to the Falklands

Britain 'stands firmly' with Falkland Islands as minister pays visit in fresh warning to Argentina's eccentric president

Matt Hancock gave evidence on Thursday.

Matt Hancock insists he is 'no liar' as he blames 'toxic culture' in No10 for Covid failings

Palestinians line up for food in Rafah, Gaza Strip

Tough talks ahead as Gaza ceasefire holds with more hostages freed

Caolan Gormley was convicted of an offence linked to the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants

Last people smuggler in operation linked to deaths of 39 migrants in Essex lorry jailed for seven years