NHS waiting times are too long, Rishi Sunak admitted in a New Year’s speech that he saw him urge hospitals not to cancel elective surgeries despite heavy pressure on A&E departments.
The prime minister did not say whether people should expect an immediate improvement in the health service, after reports of unnecessary deaths due to long ambulance response times and difficulties transferring patients to hospital
He admitted that “people wait too long for the care they need,” but stressed that ensuring waiting lists started to shrink was one of his five key promises.
During the covid pandemic, Sunak said, the National Health Service drastically reduced scheduled surgeries, and urged hospitals not to do it again, to attend to the significant number of people who require urgent treatment in the emergency room.
“That’s what we shouldn’t be doing,” he told a news conference in east London on Wednesday. “That is what happened during Covid. We stopped doing elective surgery.
“The amount of elective activity in the NHS has been reduced to about half of what it normally does. So the reason we have a huge waiting list right now is because we have to catch up with that.”
Acknowledging the pressure on the NHS after number 10 was criticized for its response to the crisis, Sunak said, “I know there are challenges at A&E. People are understandably anxious when they see ambulances lining up outside hospitals.”
Increased hospital bed capacity was promised, as well as funds for social care to help discharge people who are healthy enough. But when asked how quickly NHS services would improve, Sunak did not give a clear answer.
He said the “sharpest pressure” this winter was on A&E, adding: “That’s what people are most worried about.”
Reiterating his commitment to reduce wait times for elective surgery, Sunak said that in “just a few months” he hoped to have “virtually eliminated” people who had to wait a year and a half.
Sunak also made four other promises, saying that by the end of 2023 inflation would be cut in half and the national debt would be reduced.
He also vowed to ensure economic growth and “stop the ships,” referring to people smugglers crossing the English Channel, but refused to give a deadline for either.
“No tricks, no ambiguities, we are delivering for you or we are not,” Sunak said.
“We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all. So, I ask you to judge us by the effort we put in and the results we achieve.”
Sunak said the policies were the foundation “on which to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
The message, an acknowledgment of the Tories’ hard fight to reduce the vote deficit, will also be seen as a plea from Sunak to unruly Conservative MPs to focus on advancing manifesto commitments rather than show disunity.
plans for everyone students in England to study mathematics until the age of 18 to address the lack of numeracy and better equip them for the modern workplace were also confirmed by the prime minister.
Looking ahead to next year, Sunak said he knew people were approaching 2023 with “apprehension” and expressed hope it would restore optimism.
Although he repeated the promise to address the strike, Sunak did not elaborate on the legislation. He promised to say more in “the next few days about our approach.”
The New Year’s speech was significantly different from his last public address, on the steps of Downing Street on the day he became prime minister.
Then he remained solemn and focused on the immediate issue posed by the loss of market confidence following the mini-budget and the removal of Liz Truss. But in the weeks since, he has come under increasing pressure to delineate “sunakism” and give the Conservative party a stronger mission in the run-up to the next election.