A Conservative minister has made a fierce defence of her Government’s record on the NHS after the party was accused of running down the service to pave the way for privatisation.
During a major flashpoint on BBC’s Question Time, James said she was “not a liar” after a clash where an audience member claimed the Tories were under-funding the service deliberately.
The MP was called a “liar” as she pointed to extra Conservative cash for the NHS.
The Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, who also faced a barrage of criticism over the Government’s handling of the Carillion collapse, pointed to the Government repeatedly increasing spending on health and injecting an extra £3.5 billion at the recent Budget.
The exchange centred around the Department of Health replacing bursaries for nurses with loans, which it says will free up £800m a year to create extra nursing roles.
Audience member: “What I do not understand is, there is public support to put more money into the NHS, to pay our nurses more, to support our nurses and reinstall the bursary programme, because if you are going to be a nurse and qualify earning less than £30,000 a year, but you ended up in so much debt, with such high interest rates to pay, why would you do it?
“It does not make any sense. I wonder if the Conservative government we have is ideological making the NHS - underfunding it - so they can make the argument for privatisation.”
James: “I am very sorry there is such enthusiasm for what you have said because it is utterly untrue.”
James: “I am sorry, I have been accused of wanting to set the NHS up to fail so that we can privatise it. Nothing can be further from the truth.”
Audience member: “Liar!”
James: “I am not a liar. I have spent time volunteering in the NHS over four, five years. I am not a liar. I believe in the NHS. And so does my Government. And we do put more money into it.”
Audience interrupts again.
James: “I am sorry, I am going to carry on answering this question. We have put an extra £3.5 billion in at the last Budget, we have increased the NHS budget every year since we got into office.
“I do accept there is more demographic pressures on it. I do accept that, that is true. But it is not true to say that we do not invest in the NHS and it is an utter lie to say that we don’t believe in it, because we do.”
The Conservative Parry has of late taken an appreciably more robust approach to tackling critics, particularly online. In response to repeated attacks over its handling of the NHS, the party’s official Twitter account put out instant rebuttals.
In the Autumn Budget, an extra £2.8bn was allocated to NHS resource spending and £350 million made available immediately to allow health trusts to plan for this winter.
But, underlining the problems faced even when more money is pumped in, NHS England had warned that any increase short of £4bn next year would cause problems, and claimed that it could no longer deliver all the care, services, waiting times and innovations that are expected of it.