Rishi Sunak tells UK health, social-care leaders a bold approach will fix NHS

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told a gathering of health and social-care leaders that a “bold and radical approach” is needed to end the crisis at the country’s National Health Service.

Sunak hosted a “recovery forum” of health professionals and officials at Downing Street on Saturday that was first announced last night to address issues including improving emergency treatment and speeding up social-care discharge.

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The government said it would publish plans to improve ambulance and A&E waiting times in the coming weeks.

“We are determined to ease pressure on the NHS, ensure better care for patients and deliver our promise to cut waiting lists,” Sunak commented in a tweet on Saturday.

Members of Sunak’s own party have criticized the government’s response to the latest pressures on the NHS. Staff shortages, labor unrest, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and winter flu have led some hospitals to declare critical incidents. Seriously ill patients are facing long waits for emergency care and there has been a steep rise in excess deaths at home and in hospitals.

Nurses and ambulance workers are slated to take further industrial action this month, while a union representing junior doctors said on Friday it would hold a 72-hour strike in March if members embrace it in a ballot starting next week. Talks between ministers and unions across different industries are expected to resume on Monday.

The Royal College of Nursing — which has been seeking a 19 percent increase in wages — wants the UK government to meet it “halfway on pay,” the union’s chief said earlier this week.

Sticking plaster

In an article published in Sunday’s Telegraph, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he invited union leaders to “discuss what is fair and affordable” to submit to the pay review body for next year, while at the same time underlining the government’s plan to change strike laws for essential services.

In the same newspaper, Keir Starmer signaled his Labour Party would use surplus capacity in the private sector to help cut NHS waiting lists.

“Labour has a bold plan to slash waiting times by temporarily ramping up partnerships with private providers. I’m urging the Prime Minister to use it,” he wrote. “No more sticking plaster politics.”

In the meantime, the government will be looking for more ways to demonstrate it has a long-term strategy for the health system.

Ministers are considering plans in the coming weeks to increase the number of carers and medical training places, and to make doctor-degree apprenticeships more flexible, Bloomberg reported.

Read more: UK to introduce law to curb strikes in key sectors

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