Waiting lists would be lower if it wasn't for strikes, says Health Minister

Waiting lists would be lower if it wasn't for strikes, says Health Minister
Georgia Pearce

By Georgia Pearce

Published: 12/04/2024

- 06:16

Health Minister Maria Caulfield has said today’s waiting list statistics show “positive news” for the NHS but took aim at striking medics, saying 34,000 procedures would have been completed in February had it not been for industrial action.

Caulfield also hit back at comments from Boris Johnson over the ban on buying cigarettes saying, “the polling suggests it's very, very popular with the public.”

Speaking on GB News, Maria Caulfield said: “It is really good news because it is not just the number of people on the waiting lists that are falling but the length of time they're waiting for procedures.

“In Wales, there's 40% longer waits for procedures in Wales where Labour run the health service there.

“But people are waiting just under a year now for many procedures and we've opened up a number of avenues to get those waiting lists down from our community diagnostic centres: We've got over 160 sites now performing things like CTS, MRIs, endoscopies, which have helped get down those waiting lists.

“We've opened up over a hundred surgical hubs across the country, which are again operating to get the back of that backlog down.

“We would be further ahead if we hadn't had the strikes, for example. I think in February, there were 34,000 procedures that would have been done if it wasn't for the strikes that would have brought those lists even lower.

“So considering we've just come through winter, considering the strikes that were ongoing, it is good news and patients will be seeing the difference in terms of who else is on the waiting list and how long they have to wait.

“We did close down the routine health care system for nearly two years under COVID and of course, that creates a natural backlog in itself. But if you look at dentistry, for example, since we put our new dental recovery plan in place in January, we've seen 500 new practices come and join NHS dentistry and we’ll create 2.5 million more dental appointments.

“We don't employ dentists direct, so we do need them to take up NHS contracts and we're trying to make that more attractive for them. So, there's good news around whether it's A&E waiting times, the four-hour waits are improved, the 12 hour waits are improved. Dentistry appointments are becoming more reliable, and the waiting lists are coming down too. Overall, it's positive news in terms of the direction of travel.

“[Smoking legislation] will be a free vote and Rishi said that from the start when he announced it at a party conference last year. We're not stopping anyone from smoking. Obviously, we want people to stop smoking but the legislation that's being brought in, anyone who smokes now will not be forced to stop.

“What we're doing is for children who are the next generation will not be able to legally buy cigarettes. So people who choose to smoke now, despite all the warnings, despite all the concerns, will not have that freedom taken away from them.

“And it is a free vote for a reason. There's never been a whipped vote on smoking legislation even when Labour were in government. And so it's interesting to see how Boris would have voted if he was still in Westminster but then that is for each individual MP to make a decision on.

“The polling suggests it's very, very popular with the public, because people know the dangers and the harms that smoking can cause; we know it's a leading risk factor in cancer, in heart disease, in stroke. Even from a dental point of view it’s a leading factor why people lose their teeth when they smoke because their gums recede.

“So smoking is something that we need to eradicate, and the legislation will mean that the next generation will no longer be able to legally buy cigarettes.”

Asked about the Labour Party’s pledge to use private sector capacity to get waiting lists down, Caulfield said: “Well, [the government’s] absolutely been doing that: Part of the way we've got down our waiting lists has been by using the independent sector. So each local area will be doing it through their NHS Trust, but where the independent sector in their local area has capacity, they'll be using that as well.

“Some of our community diagnostic centres that we've opened up doing CTs, MRIs, X-ray scans, some of them are being done with independent providers providing those.

“Dentists are independent providers as are GPs and they take on NHS contracts.

“So the work between the NHS and the independent sector has been going on for decades and actually, that's a key reason why we've got many of our waiting lists down.

“It's not just about how much you spend but it's what you spend it on. That's why our money, instead of when Labour were government and they frittered away millions on an IT system that never saw the light of day, we're putting it into surgical hubs, we're putting it into dentists we're putting it into community diagnostic centres, so that people actually see the difference this money's making.

“It's why I got into politics. I was a nurse and I was fed up of working under the Labour government when they were in charge of the NHS because by no means did they have any solutions then.

“I'm not hearing much from Wes [Streeting] that we're not doing already, to be honest.

“When I'm door knocking, and I'm knocking on doors at the moment, one thing that people say to me is they're fed up with infighting within the Conservatives. They want us to get on and deal with things like the NHS and getting waiting lists down. They're not interested in personalities and who said what to whom.

“I was a big supporter of Boris myself. Boris was a larger-than-life character he could have stood in that leadership election, the last time; he withdrew. He could have stood in the by-election when the recall was triggered; he chose not to; he chose to resign.

“He made some of those decisions for himself but absolutely, I think Boris has a huge amount to add and people on the doorstep do miss him, but they want us to get on and start delivering for the country and the figures today prove that we're doing just that.”


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