The Prime Minister told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “As a general policy I wouldn’t ever talk about me or my family’s healthcare situation. But it’s not really relevant, what’s relevant is the difference I can make to the country.”
His interview on the broadcaster’s flagship comes after Sunak held talks over easing the NHS winter crisis at Number 10 with health leaders on Saturday (7 January). The PM told them that a “business-as-usual mindset won’t fix the challenges we face”.
Critics said the discussions were a “talking shop” that will fail to ease the vast pressure on frontline services after years of inaction and underinvestment. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has meanwhile suggested a “constructive approach” to pay negotiations with striking health workers, with increases on the table if the unions will agree to efficiency savings to make higher salaries more “affordable”.
Sunak was one of the guests on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on 8 January. Here is what he said:
What did Prime Minister say during BBC appearance?
He refused to confim if he uses private healthcare. Asked if the NHS was ‘in crisis’, he told BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme in an interview recorded on Saturday: “The NHS is undeniably under enormous pressure and I’ve spent today talking to NHS leaders, all day in fact.”
He added: “Recovering from Covid is going to be tough and we’re seeing that play out on our TV screens every day and in communities up and down the country, but actually I came away from all my meetings today with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism that we can get to grips with this problem.”
Sunak also indicated talks with health unions will focus on the pay settlement for the upcoming financial year rather than demands for negotiations on the current deal. The Prime Minister said: “When it comes to pay we’ve always said we want to talk about things that are reasonable, that are affordable and responsible for the country.” He said Monday’s (9 January) meeting between Health Secretary Steve Barclay and unions is “really important” but he indicated only the next financial year’s pay is up for discussion.
“We are about to start a new pay settlement round for this year, we’re about to start that independent process, and before that process starts the Government is keen to sit down with the unions and talk about pay and make sure they understand where we’re coming from,” he said.
Asked again if he thought the health service issues were ‘a crisis’, Sunak said: “Well, as I said, the NHS is under pressure. I think what matters more than words is action, and here are the actions: three weeks after I became Prime Minister in the autumn statement at a time of difficulty elsewhere, billions of extra pounds for the NHS and social care and then the next thing is: what difference is that going to make? And that’s the question people should be asking, that’s what I want to be held account for.
“So yes, there are unacceptable delays right now happening in ambulances and A&Es, but if you look at it, we’ve got actually a relatively small number of trusts – around 10% of trusts that account for over half of all the ambulance handover delays.”
What has the reaction been?
The PM needs to “come clean” about whether he uses private healthcare, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen has said.
Reacting after his interview, Ms Cullen told the show: I think as a public servant, you ought to be clear with the public whether or not you are using private health cover. That’s about being open, it’s about being transparent, and it’s about honesty.
“And those are characteristics that if you were talking to the public, which I’ve done over the last while on picket lines, that are characteristics that seem to be missing at the minute. I think he needed to come clean. As a public servant he is elected by the public, so he is accountable to the public, and when you’re accountable to the public, you have to be honest with them.”