Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested there should be a greater role for the private sector in the NHS as he set out how he wanted to win voters’ trust on the issue.
Mr Sunak, who has made cutting waiting lists one of his five priorities, was speaking as official figures showed an estimated 7.22 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of February – the highest total since records began in 2007.
Mr Sunak said Tories should not be “hung up” about making the case for greater private sector involvement to help provide competition in the health service.
Asked whether European systems offered better outcomes, the Prime Minister said the NHS was the country’s “number one public service priority” and “our job is to make sure we’re trusted with it”.
The latest NHS England figures showed the number waiting more than a year and a half for treatment has dropped from 45,631 to 29,778, a month-on-month fall of 35%, in fresh evidence that progress is being made on clearing the backlog of longest waits.
Mr Sunak told ConservativeHome: “We are making real progress. Cutting the waiting list is one of my priorities, there’s lots of different ways we are doing that but it’s about doing things differently, it’s about reform, it’s about using the private sector more, the independent sector.
“That’s something that we, actually, should be very comfortable with.
“Ultimately, if a patient is still getting the care they need, free at the point of use, we shouldn’t be so hung up on who is providing it, we should be using the independent sector to provide choice, to provide competition, drive up quality.
“It’s worked in the past and we are going to do more of that going forward.”
Mr Sunak, who faced questions about his role in ousting former prime minister Boris Johnson, said the party must move on from the turmoil of the past 12 months.
He said “coming together, focusing on delivering for people” is “the best way to win the next election”.
“That’s why I just say to everybody look, the past is the past, we’ve got to look forward and we are not going to be able to achieve anything if we are not united as a party and that’s what I’ve been trying very hard to say to colleagues.”
Mr Sunak said he was a “low tax Conservative” but again said tax cuts would have to wait until the economy and public finances are on a more stable footing.
“We’ve got to get inflation down first, get borrowing under control and then we’ve got the sound fundamentals to cut taxes,” he said.
Mr Sunak said the UK was a “foreign policy superpower” in its own right, following French president Emmanuel Macron’s comments about Europe’s response to China and the US.
Mr Macron used an interview with Politico and Les Echos to say the European Union should become a “third superpower” and avoid getting dragged into a clash between China and the US over Taiwan.
Mr Sunak highlighted the Aukus submarine deal with the US and Australia, the Windsor Framework agreement with the EU, the Anglo-French summit and the accession to the CPTPP Pacific trade area as examples of the UK’s global status.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to be a foreign policy superpower, we are a foreign policy superpower,” he said.
Published: by Radio NewsHub