‘We are beginning to see changes’: Victoria Atkins dismisses calls to declare NHS ‘national emergency’

31 January 2024, 13:05

Victoria Atkins said the NHS was not in a state of emergency
Victoria Atkins said the NHS was not in a state of emergency. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The health secretary has dismissed calls to declare a national emergency for the NHS, claiming that the beleaguered health service is "beginning to see changes".

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Victoria Atkins told LBC she was "absolutely confident" in the future of the NHS, despite a group of top doctors warning that the health service faces an "existential threat" driven by underinvestment, shortages of staff and an ageing population.

The health experts, convened by the British Medical Journal, said that whoever forms the next government should effectively "relaunch the NHS".

“Given the extreme seriousness of the situation and the lessons learned, we recommend that the government in post after the election should declare a national health and care emergency calling on all parts of society to help improve health, care and wellbeing."

Ms Atkins denied that the NHS was in a state of emergency, and said she was "absolutely confident" in the future of the NHS.

Dame Andrea Leadsom: “The NHS has had considerably more than an additional £350million a week.”

"We are beginning to see changes. Winter is always tough for any healthcare system."

The NHS waiting list still stands at 7.6 million as of November, the latest figures available, although this was down nearly 100,000 from the previous month.

Meanwhile the NHS has also been struggling with strikes for over a year. Junior doctors walked out for the longest ever NHS strike in early January, and their pay dispute remains unresolved.

Ms Atkins said that the British Medical Association (BMA) and health minister Andrew Stephenson are meeting this week to discuss "next steps".

Victoria Atkins
Victoria Atkins. Picture: Alamy

Speaking on Monday, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said: "After almost three weeks of silence from the Government we could have been using to find an end to this dispute, we can confirm that following our letter requesting talks we will be meeting with health minister Andrew Stephenson later this week.

"We hope he will come with a constructive attitude toward getting a credible offer we can put to our members, as a matter of urgency, that can end this dispute once and for all."

Consultants have also narrowly voted against a government pay offer, although talks with the government continue.

Ms Atkins said that she "genuinely" thinks that a deal can be reached with consultants.

Doctors have been on strike
Doctors have been on strike. Picture: Alamy

She added: "I am not going to go into details at the moment.... We missed out by a few hundred votes, I just want to give us a bit of time and space to be able to work some of these things through so we can reach a settlement. I am confident we will get there."

During the current dispute, consultants have staged four rounds of strike action, including an unprecedented joint walkout with junior colleagues.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We’re providing record funding for the NHS, we’ve met our pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses early, and we’ve put in place the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to make sure the NHS has the staff it needs in the years ahead.

"We’re supporting the NHS to recover from the pandemic and deal with the Covid backlog. Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities.

"November was the first month without industrial action for over a year and we reduced the total waiting list by more than 95,000 – the biggest decrease since December 2010, outside the pandemic."