Rishi Sunak and his health chief 'nowhere to be found' as NHS faces crisis

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Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Image: Peter Summers)
Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Image: Peter Summers)

Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay have been accused of going into hiding while the NHS teeters on the brink of collapse.

Downing Street said Mr Sunak didn't have immediate plans to visit hospitals or publicly address the spiralling pressures on the crisis-hit health service after dire scenes on the wards over Christmas.

Health chief Mr Barclay is also not scheduled to visit medics battling on the frontline at present - although a source said he was in constant contact with NHS leaders.

Labour accused the Government of "breath-taking complacency" after more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over Christmas and New Year.

No10 today insisted that the NHS has the funding it needs to battle a toxic cocktail of winter pressures, Covid backlogs, staffing shortages and looming strike action.

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But senior doctors said the situation was "intolerable and unsustainable" - and warned that patients are "dying unnecessarily" because of political choices.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has claimed that up to 500 people a week die because of delays in emergency care.

Rishi Sunak and his health chief 'nowhere to be found' as NHS faces crisisOur NHS is coming under enormous pressure this winter (Getty Images)

Pressure is mounting on the Government to call a nationwide critical incident, as during the height of the Covid pandemic, allowing hospitals to cancel ­non-urgent cases.

The Liberal Democrats have said that Parliament must be recalled early as MPs are not due to return from their Christmas break until January 9.

No10 said the Prime Minister was working in Downing Street this week but did not set out any plans for visits or public activity in the coming days.

Asked what Mr Sunak was doing, his official spokesman said: "He's got a lot of meetings in a normal way but if he has any public facing activity... we will update you in the normal way."

Mr Sunak was last seen in public on a visit to a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve - where he asked a homeless man if he worked in a business.

He has been working over the festive period except for spending Christmas Day with his family.

It is understood Mr Barclay is working at the Department of Health all week rather than in his constituency.

A source close to the Health Secretary said he was "constantly in contact with NHS leaders".

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Rishi Sunak and his health chief 'nowhere to be found' as NHS faces crisisNurses are poised for further walkouts in the coming weeks (Getty Images)

No10 also dodged saying the NHS was in crisis. Pressed on whether the NHS was in crisis, the PM's spokesman said: "This is certainly an unprecedented challenge for the NHS brought about by a number of factors, most significantly the global pandemic."

The spokesman said the Government had been "up front" with the public about the difficulties ahead.

He said: "I think we are confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs - and as we did throughout the pandemic - to deal with these issues.

"I think we have been up front with the public long in advance of this winter that because of the pandemic and the pressures it's placed in the backlog of cases that this would be an extremely challenging winter, and that is what we are seeing."

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: "Everything’s “quite normal” in the NHS according to the Government.

"This breath-taking complacency does at least explain why Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay are nowhere to be seen. Negligent, irresponsible, and a risk to the public’s health.

Lib Dem Cabinet Office spokesperson Christine Jardine said: "This is a national crisis but still Rishi Sunak is nowhere to be found. People are literally dying yet Sunak hasn't even bothered to address the nation, let alone act.

"The country is coming to a stand still with endless strikes and underfunded public services. Brits have lost all faith in this Government. It is just chaos after more chaos with this Conservative Government.

"Rishi Sunak has just weeks to turn this around before the country tells him his time is up as Prime Minister. If he can't be bothered to do this job then he either needs to step aside or call an election so we can finally get him out of Downing Street."

Lizzy Buchan

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15.07.2024, 17:44 • Investigation