Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisis

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Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisis
Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisis

Under-fire Health Secretary Steve Barclay has finally broken cover and attempted to shift blame for the NHS crisis onto Covid, Strep A and flu.

The top Tory admitted the dire situation in the health service was not acceptable after several trusts announced critical incidents and ambulances waited hours outside hospitals to transfer their patients.

But he said "a combination of very high rates of flu, persistent and high levels of COVID, continuing concerns particularly among many parents around Strep A" were at the root of the "massive pressures" faced by the health service over Christmas.

He told broadcasters: "There's £500 million of investment this year going into tackling the pressure in terms of social care. So we're putting more funding in. We've got more clinicians, we've got more staff working in the NHS.

Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisis eideeidediqxzinvSteve Barclay - seen for the first time since before Christmas - has been under pressure over the NHS crisis (Sky News)

"Of course there's a range of factors that we need to do. There's been particular pressures over Christmas because we've had a surge in flu cases, Covid cases and also a lot of concern around Strep A."

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But he failed to address the pleas from medics for more support, who warn that a decade of Tory cuts have left the NHS on the brink of collapse.

It comes after No10 refused to accept the NHS is in crisis and insisted the struggling health service has the resources it needs to cope with spiralling pressures.

Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisisThe NHS is coming under enormous pressure this winter (Getty Images)

The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted the NHS has the funding it needs to battle a toxic cocktail of winter pressures, Covid backlogs, staffing shortages and looming strikes.

Pressed on whether the NHS was in “crisis”, Rishi Sunak'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."

Critics have accused Mr Barclay and PM Rishi Sunak of going into hiding during the crisis - as neither of the top Tories had made a public appearance since before Christmas.

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.

Steve Barclay finally pops up but shamelessly shifts blame for dire NHS crisisRishi Sunak has been keeping a low profile over the Christmas period (AFP via Getty Images)

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."

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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.

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 standstill 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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