Ministers ‘happy to see operations cancelled in order to blame junior doctors’ – say Labour

The Government is “happy to see hundreds of thousands of operations cancelled” so it can blame junior doctors for NHS waiting lists not falling, Labour has claimed.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting urged ministers to meet the striking junior doctors, who have taken industrial action in a dispute over pay.

The doctors’ trade union, the British Medical Association, has said a 35% pay rise would represent “pay restoration” following years of stagnant remuneration.

Ministers have claimed this is a precondition to talks and have insisted doctors must drop it before negotiations can begin.

The BMA said it has not placed any preconditions on such a meeting.

Mr Streeting (pictured) urged Health Secretary Steve Barclay to meet with doctors as he also insisted there are no preconditions to negotiations.

The Labour frontbencher told the Commons: “Why isn’t he sat down with them today? He says he can’t negotiate because the BMA won’t budge on 35%, but that is not true, is it?

“He says that junior doctors have got to drop their preconditions. They don’t have any, do they?

“He says strike action will have to be called off before he can sit down. There are no strike days planned, are there?”

He added: “Isn’t it the case that he is quite happy to see hundreds of thousands of operations cancelled so he can blame the junior doctors for the NHS waiting list, rather than 13 years of staggering Conservative incompetence?”

Referring to pay negotiations with other NHS workers, Mr Barclay replied: “We have shown through our negotiation with the NHS staff council our willingness to gain and to reach a settlement. Indeed, the general secretary of the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) recommended the deal to her members.

“Unison, his own union, the union of which he is a member, voted for this deal by a margin of 74% and we stand ready to have engagement with the junior doctors, but 35% is not reasonable and he himself has said that it is not.”

Elsewhere in the debate, ministers were warned about a lack of resources in the care sector.

Conservative former social care minister Dame Caroline Dinenage warned that “appalling standards of care” for people with learning disabilities and autistic people “are still too frequent”.

She said: “It’s eight years since the Transforming Care programme started with a target of halving the number of people with a learning disability and autistic people in in-patient mental health settings by the year 2024, and yet according to the Challenging Behaviour Foundation since then the number of children in these settings has nearly doubled.”

Health minister Maria Caulfield replied: “Our priority is always to ensure that people – both children and adults – with a learning disability and autistic people are receiving safe and high quality care.

“We have got, when you include children and adults, over 2,000 people still waiting to be discharged from in-patient facilities, but that is a reduction of 30% and we are making progress.”

Labour shadow health minister Liz Kendall, meanwhile, said the Conservatives have “completely failed” to deliver a promised cap on care costs.

She added: “The £500 million promised for the care workforce cut in half, £300 million promised for housing in care slashed by two-thirds and £600 million of other promises, well, your guess is as good as mine.”

She added: “So, will the minister tell us where has all this money gone? And why on earth should older and disabled people, and their families, ever believe the Conservatives on social care again?”

Health minister Helen Whately insisted the Government has “not cut a penny of funding from our commitments to adult social care”.

She added: “We are forging ahead with our reforms with a workforce absolutely at the heart because the workforce is so crucial, hand in hand with digitalisation of social care, improving data, joining up health and social care and supporting unpaid carers.”

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