Rishi Sunak admits he has failed on promise to cut NHS waiting lists

Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak admitted on Monday that he has failed to keep his promise to cut NHS waiting lists.

Last year, the prime minister made cutting the number of patients waiting for NHS treatment one of the five key priorities of his leadership.

But in a TalkTV interview with Piers Morgan in Downing Street, Mr Sunak admitted his government has "not made enough progress."

Asked if that meant he'd failed on that pledge, the prime minister replied: “Yes, we have.”

But he denied the NHS crisis is the result of years of Tory failure and instead blamed the pandemic and industrial strikes, adding that the latter “has had an impact” on delivering his government's commitment.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Rishi Sunak has finally admitted what has been blatantly obvious to everyone else for years – the Conservatives have failed on the NHS.

“Where Sunak has failed, Labour will succeed in getting the NHS back on its feet. We did it before and we will do it again.”

'Industrial action has had an impact', the PM said as he admitted waiting lists are still too high

Official NHS data showed that at the end of November, there were 7.61 million treatments waiting to be carried out, relating to 6.39 million patients.

That was down from 7.71 million treatments and 6.44 million patients at the end of October.

The government and NHS England set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April 2023, excluding exceptionally complex cases or patients who chose to wait longer.

But 11,168 people in England were waiting more than 18 months to start routine hospital treatment at the end of November, up from 10,506 at the end of October, the data showed.

Cancer targets were still being missed, the data showed, while A&E waits in England also worsened.

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E from a decision to admit to actually being admitted was 44,045 in December - up from 42,854 in November - although still an improvement on the year before.

Morgan put it to the prime minister that although waiting lists have slightly fallen, they stood at more than half a million more than at the start of last year.

The PM replied: “Yes, and we all know the reasons for that.

“And what I would say to people is, look, we have invested record amounts in the NHS, more doctors, more nurses, more scanners.

“All these things mean that the NHS is doing more today than it ever has been.

“But industrial action has had an impact and that's why we've been working very hard to bring down the people waiting for A&E treatment".

Rishi Sunak pledged in January 2023 to cut NHS waiting lists Credit: Jaime Lorriman/The Daily Telegraph

Morgan went on to tell Mr Sunak about his 79-year-old mother’s experience three months ago in A&E after suffering a heart attack.

The broadcaster told the PM that his mother was taken to hospital in an ambulance and was seen when she arrived but then was left on a trolley in an A&E corridor for almost seven hours.

Morgan claimed his mum was one of around 40 others waiting on trolleys - most of whom were elderly - in a scene she compared to a “war zone”.

He said the incident didn't happen on a busy weekend, but on a Monday night.

The prime minister agreed the story was “shocking” and that performance in A&E and with ambulance waiting times were “not good enough”.

But he denied that the Tories had failed the NHS since 2010, instead blaming the backlog on pressures inflicted by the pandemic.

“We can’t escape that,” added Mr Sunak. “When you shut down the country in the NHS for the best part of two years, that has had an impact on everything since then. And we just have to recognise that reality.”

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Also during the interview, Mr Sunak accepted a £1,000 bet with Morgan - with the money to go to a refugee charity - that the first deportation flights to Rwanda will take place before the next general election, which is expected in the autumn.

He previously set the target of sending asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes - including those crossing the English Channel in small boats - to the east African country by the spring.

The UK has paid Rwanda £240 million under the PM's controversial plan to “stop the boats” — another of his five key pledges — and ministers expect to pay an additional £50 million next year.

But despite the money paid, no migrants have yet been removed due to legal challenges that resulted in the Supreme Court last year finding the scheme unlawful.

Mr Sunak is trying to revive the policy by passing legislation deeming Rwanda a safe country and ratifying a new treaty with Kigali. The Rwanda Bill is currently making its way through a House of Lords that is hostile to the scheme.

After shaking hands with Morgan on the terms of the Rwanda bet, Mr Sunak said: “I want to get the people on the plane.

“I am working incredibly hard to get the people on the planes.”

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