British PM Sunak says he has failed on key healthcare pledge

The British PM set out five major policy pledges at the start of 2023, including one to cut waiting lists in the strained, state-run National Health Service

Reuters
Published : 5 Feb 2024, 12:53 PM
Updated : 5 Feb 2024, 12:53 PM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his government had not done enough to cut the high number of people waiting for hospital treatment in the health service, admitting failure on one of his signature pledges in the run-up to an election.

Sunak set out five major policy pledges at the start of 2023, including one to cut waiting lists in the strained, state-run National Health Service (NHS), a top concern for a majority of voters.

"We have not made enough progress," Sunak told TalkTV's Piers Morgan in an interview that will air later on Monday, referring to NHS waiting lists.

Asked if he had failed on that pledge, the prime minister replied: "Yes, we have."

Sunak added that the government had invested heavily in the NHS, adding more staff and medical equipment, but persistent strikes by doctors over pay were hindering efforts to bring down waiting lists.

A near-record 7.6 million people in England were waiting for non-emergency NHS hospital treatment as of last November, hundreds of thousands more than when Sunak came to power in late 2022, according to official figures.

An institution long-cherished by Britons since its creation in 1948, the NHS has faced huge pressure in recent years from an ageing population and the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased its patient backlog.

A national election is expected later this year, with opinion polls giving the opposition Labour Party a strong lead over Sunak's Conservatives.

"Rishi Sunak has finally admitted what has been blatantly obvious to everyone else for years – the Conservatives have failed on the NHS," Labour's health policy chief Wes Streeting said.

"We will cut waiting lists with two million more evening and weekend appointments, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status," he added.