Boris Johnson admits NHS waiting times 'unacceptable' after Matt Hancock hints targets could be scrapped
Boris Johnson has admitted that NHS waiting times are "unacceptable" after the Health Secretary suggested key targets for the health service could be scrapped.
The Prime Minister defended the Government's handling of the NHS on Wednesday as he traded blows with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons.
The PMQs exchange - which saw Mr Johnson talk up "record" investment in the health service - came after Matt Hancock faced criticism for hinting that ministers could move to ditch some repeatedly-missed NHS performance targets.
The latest figures from NHS England show that accident and emergency waiting times hit their worst-ever level in December, with one in five attending A&E forced to wait for more than four hours.
The current NHS target is for 95% of patients to be seen within that time.
Launching an attack on ministers in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn asked: "Can the Prime Minister let the British people know why after almost ten years of Tory government, patients are waiting longer for essential NHS care, whether it's in A&Es, on waiting lists or for a GP appointment?"
Mr Johnson hit back by pointing to the Conservatives' manifesto pledge to boost investment in the health service. A new NHS Funding bill - introduced to the Commons on Wednesday - will set a legally-binding target for ministers to provide the NHS with an extra £33.9 billion a year by 2023/24.
The Prime Minister said: "We are investing record sums into the NHS. The House should be very proud today that we are passing the NHS Funding Bill which will guarantee such funding not just this year but into the future."
But he acknowledged: "There is a massive demand on the NHS, which as he also knows is doing a fantastic job, particularly in fact in oncology where tremendous progress has been made.
"He's right to signal the delays that people are facing and they are indeed unacceptable. And that is why we are investing in 50,000 more nurses. That's why we're investing in 6,000 more GPs. And that is why this government is investing record sums in the NHS. We will get those waiting lists down."
But the Labour leader said the A&E figures showed that the health service was now "understaffed and underfunded" as he warned: "The number of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E is now at its highest on record for the second month in a row. We've had months of promises, but people need action."
'THE RIGHT TARGETS'
The row came after Mr Hancock said the repeatedly-missed accident and emergency target was no longer "clinically appropriate" as he suggested it was "no longer supported" by doctors themselves.
The Health Secretary told the BBC: “We will be judged by the right targets. Targets have to be clinically appropriate.
"The four-hour target in A&E – which is often taken as the top way of measuring what’s going on in hospitals – the problem with that target is that increasingly people are treated on the day and are able to go home.
"It’s much better for the patient and also better for the NHS and yet the way that’s counted in the target doesn’t work.
"It’s far better to have targets that are clinically appropriate and supported by clinicians."
That triggered an angry response from his Labour opposite number Jonathan Ashworth, who traded frontbench jibes with Mr Hancock during Wednesday's PMQs.
The Shadow Health Secretary warned: "Changing the A&E target won’t magic away the problems in our overcrowded hospitals, with patients left on trolleys in corridors for hours and hours. Any review of targets must be transparent and based on watertight clinical evidence, otherwise patients will think Matt Hancock is trying to move the goalposts to avoid scrutiny of the government's record.
"After years of austerity under the Tories, the government's first priority must be to give the NHS the funding and staff it needs to end the waiting time crisis."