Rishi Sunak Has NHS GP, Ambulance Workers On Strike, Brexit Crunch Talks In Northern Ireland
Rishi Sunak has previously refused to say whether he uses a private GP (Alamy)
The Prime Minister has finally addressed questions over whether he uses the NHS or private healthcare, confirming that the answer is in fact both. He told Prime Ministers' Questions (PMQs) that he's seen private doctors “in the past” but is now registered with an NHS GP.
In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, Rishi Sunak refused to say whether he uses a private or NHS GP, saying the matter is “private” and “not really relevant”.
However, he faced criticism from unions and the Labour Party, with Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen saying he "ought to be clear with the public whether or not you are using private health cover".
Addressing the fallout in today's PMQs, Sunak confirmed he is "registered" with an NHS GP, but did not say for how long, or whether he has routinely visited them.
"I have used independent healthcare in the past," he said.
“I'm proud to come from an NHS family and that's why I'm passionately committed to protecting it, with more funding, more doctors and nurses and a clear plan to cut the waiting lists.”
Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer clashed at PMQs over widespread industrial disputes and the anti-strikes bill that was introduced yesterday to set minimum service levels during strikes.
Starmer accused the government of “going from clapping nurses to sacking them”.
“In the 13 years of the last Labour government there were no national NHS strikes,” he said.
“If the Prime Minister had negotiated with the nurses before Christmas, they wouldn't be on strike. So why is he choosing to prolong the misery rather than end the strike?”
Sunak defended the bill and said it “shouldn’t be controversial”.
“No-one denies the union's freedom to strike but it is also important to balance that with people's right to have access to life saving health care at the same time,” the Prime Minister said.
“We're on track this spring to eliminate those waiting 18 months for care with a clear plan to go further to eliminate those waiting 52 weeks by next spring.
“We're doing that with record funding, more community diagnostic centres, more surgical hubs and more patient choice."
Thousands of ambulance workers hold their biggest strike so far
Around 25,000 ambulance workers in England and Wales are taking part in strike action today in protest over pay and pressures on staff.
The strikes are staggered, with most workers not striking longer than 12 hours each and call-handlers walking out for six-hour periods to reduce disruption.
The industrial dispute is against a background of unprecedented pressures on the NHS.
The Independent reported that the number of A&E patients waiting for more than 12 hours exceeded 50,000 a week for the first time, and The Times reported that there are at least 1,000 more deaths than usual each week due to NHS delays and surging flu infections.
Steve Barclay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “there will be disruption” due to the strikes, but that the public should still call 999 in the case of medical emergencies.
Warning of the potential danger of ambulance strikes for patients, he said: “What may be initially a less serious case can become more serious when there is significant delay in treatment.”
On Tuesday the government introduced an anti-strike bill in parliament, which will limit the effectiveness of strike action by applying a minimum service law to new sectors including the NHS, education, and fire and rescue.
Barclay accused ambulance unions of refusing to set minimum service levels for the previous strikes in December, leading to variation between areas in coverage by ambulance crews.
Defending the bill on Today, he said: “It would make planning of contingency much easier to predict.”
He insisted the government would protect the right to strike “but balance that with having minimum service levels”.
UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea told the Today programme that the union, one of two with members striking today, are doing “everything we can” to minimise disruption to the public.
Criticising the new bill, she said: “I find it quite appalling that when we have been calling for safe staffing levels in the NHS, it seems that the only time the country will get safe staffing levels – if this government brings this legislation in – is when we take strike action.”
The Labour Party has also been vocal in their opposition of the bill.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told Sky News on Wednesday: “What the government is talking about is a distraction from the total failure to get a proper deal for our brilliant public sector workers.”
She urged the government to “get around the table” and negotiate with unions on pay.
Government hoping for progress on Northern Ireland protocol agreement
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris are meeting with political and business leaders in Northern Ireland to discuss the post-Brexit protocol deal.
The UK and EU are hoping that a new mini-deal between the UK government and Brussels, involving a database to detail goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, will set the stage for further negotiations.
Cleverly said: “We share the same focus – finding the best outcome for Northern Ireland.
“Today’s progress on data sharing marks a positive step in discussions on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
In talks this week, the government will try to get closer to reaching a protocol deal before the unofficial April 10 deadline, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
PoliticsHome reported yesterday that Labour leader Keir Starmer is also set to visit Northern Ireland in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the government is trying to push through plans to review thousands of pieces of European Union law by the end of the year – a plan which legal experts have called “bonkers”.
Andrew Bridgen has Tory whip removed after comparing Covid vaccine to Holocaust
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has had the whip removed after he posted a tweet that compared the Covid vaccine roll out to the Holocaust.
Chief Whip Simon Hart said that the MP for North West Leicestershire had caused “great offence” with his comments and that there would be a formal investigation.
Hart said in a statement this morning: "Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process. As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. I am therefore removing the Whip from Andrew Bridgen with immediate effect, pending a formal investigation."
In a series of tweets this morning, Bridgen said that the vaccines are "causing serious harms" and it is "the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust".
The MP is currently serving a five day suspension from the Commons, having been found to have breached rules on paid lobbying and declaring interests.
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