Labour’s Wes Streeting says he has been “treated like a heretic” by the British Medical Association over his ideas for improving patient access.
The shadow health secretary has vowed to take on those holding back the NHS and highlighted the “appalling” levels of access to GPs.
However, he claimed this had sparked anger from some unions including the BMA - which represents doctors in the UK.
Streeting told Sky News: “Despite the fact that I announced the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history, because I had the temerity to say that we also should expect better service for patients for exchange in that investment – because I think it’s unacceptable that people have to wait on the phone at eight o’clock in the morning to get through to a GP – I have been treated like some kind of heretic by the BMA.
“I’m afraid I do understand the pressure doctors are under.
“What I’m saying is if we are paying investment in the NHS, as the next Labour government will, we have got to expect better results for patients. Ultimately, it’s my job to be the patients’ champion.”
Challenged that he already may have a bad relationship with doctors’ unions, he said: “I’m always willing to engage with the BMA.
“But what I’m not prepared to do is accept lower standards for patients.”
Last week, an analysis by Labour suggested that five million patients a month are unable to book a GP appointment when they try to make one.
However, the head of the BMA’s GP committee accused the party of “demonising GPs who are trying their best to deliver care”.
They traded blows again on Sunday after Streeting criticised the “hostile” trade union in an interview with The Telegraph.
Streeting told the paper: “Given that we have committed to more staff, I cannot for the life of me understand why the BMA is so hostile to the idea that with more staff must come better standards for patients.”
Streeting criticised what he called “defensive attitudes” and said that Labour will not have a “something-for-nothing culture in the NHS”.
Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of council at the BMA, called the Labour MP’s comments “incredibly disappointing”.
“The anger for that crisis should be directed squarely at the government and their failure to invest, not at those who work in the NHS or the unions who represent them,” she said.
The government is currently facing waves of strike action from various sectors, with Royal College of Nursing members due to take part in unprecedented strike action on December 15 and December 20.
Ambulance workers are also set to strike on December 21.
Streeting, who criticised the government for its failure to negotiate with unions on pay in the current dispute with nurses, said: “I’m certainly not frightened to take on vested interests. And I’m not afraid to tell the BMA or other unions ‘no’ – and I think people respect that honesty.”
He admitted that if Labour wins the next general election, the party “will be in a far worse position than the one we inherited in 1997, both in terms of the state of the public finances and also the state of the NHS”.