A Tory minister was told NHS waiting lists were “going the wrong way” despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to bring them down.
Health secretary Victoria Atkins was shown a damning graph setting out how the lists have almost doubled in the last five years to almost 8 million.
That is despite the prime minister vowing at the start of the year that they would be lower within 12 months.
Appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on BBC One this morning, Atkins refused to confirm that the lists would be down in time for the next election.
Pointing to the graph, Kuenssberg said: “This is what has happened to waiting lists. We know of course the pandemic made things much more challenging, but our viewers can see it was going up well before the pandemic.
“Lots more money has gone in, there are many, many more staff. This is the situation that people are having to deal with.
“This is the prime minister’s target and it’s going the wrong way.”
The minister claimed the long-running industrial action by doctors and nurses was to blame for the government’s failure.
“Since December last year we’ve seen some 1.1 million appointments have to be rescheduled,” she said.
Atkins said the government has reached a pay agreement with unions representing NHS consultants, and that talks were ongoing with junior doctors as well.
But Kuenssberg pointed out that Atkins’ predecessor as health secretary, Steve Barclay, had refused to negotiate with the trade unions for months.
“You’ve said that the strikes are a big reason why the waiting lists are sky high and people are suffering,” she said. “Why then did the government sit on its hands for months refusing to talk to the doctors. Isn’t that responsibility on you too?”
The presenter went on: “With the numbers going the wrong way, can you commit that you’re actually going to hit these targets before the general election?”
The minister replied: “We are looking to meet those targets, but I need the consultants to pass this settlement that we have put forward.”
Kuenssberg replied: “You’re saying that if the doctors accept the new deal, the prime minister might hit his targets. But if you don’t, he won’t.”
Atkins said: “We’re doing everything we can.”