Cuts, queues and death. These motifs dominated the New Year instalment of PMQs. At the end of the last episode, shortly before Christmas, there were 12,000 patients lying in ambulances in hospital car parks. Two weeks later, according to Mr Corbyn, the figure stood at 17,000. Excellent news for Mr Corbyn because it sounds as if the queue has got nearly 50 per cent longer. But has it? In fact, the 12,000 pre-Christmas patients have been treated and sent happily on their way. The new figure represents the post-Christmas blow-out casualties. But Mr Corbyn obscured this point. And he created the impression that a patient in a nice warm ambulance is in fact languishing in a torture-unit from which few emerge alive. Mrs May warned him against suggesting that the NHS ‘is failing everybody that goes to use it.’
Our system, she said, ‘has been identified as the number one system in the world’. By who? Health tourists? She reeled off a list of rich-sounding countries, (the US, Sweden, Germany) with worse systems than ours. But which of these failed-states is about to copy the NHS from scratch?
She turned to her favourite Labour-bashing device: Wales. The Labour government in Cardiff keeps fluffing its NHS targets. Mr Corbyn blamed Wales on the Tories. They’ve slashed Welsh budgets, he cried. Mrs May reproved him icily. ‘This government gave more money to Wales.’
Ian Blackford got similar treatment over Scotland. Mr Blackford is a devout foe of Scottish independence and he wants his country ruled by foreigners, any foreigners, just as long as they’re not English. His long-term goal is to secede from the UK and then complete the Anschluss with Brussels. He asked Mrs May about the Brexit bill, which he wants to scupper, and he added a side-swipe at Mrs May’s stinginess. The Tories, he said, ‘promise Scotland everything and deliver nothing.’ This irked Mrs May. She tartly reminded him that a bung of two billion smackers had been parcelled up and despatched to Scotland in the budget.
Then the NHS reappeared. Emma Hardy said that patients in agony were being denied pain-killers because of ‘budget cuts’. Mrs May replied crossly that it was ‘plain wrong,’ to talk of ‘cuts’ when her government had raised NHS funding.
Luciana Berger upped the stakes by claiming that ‘terminally ill cancer patients’ were having chemo sessions cancelled due to a lack of nurses. Accusations don’t get much graver than this. Her allegation is that the health department is sentencing patients to an early death. Mrs May denied that patients had had their chemo sessions withdrawn. And that was that. Hardly a satisfactory exchange. MP: ‘You’re a murderer.’ PM: ‘No. I’m not. Next question.’
Mrs May claimed in her defence that cancer survival rates are increasing. Seven thousand patients are alive today who would otherwise have died, she said.
Andrew Murrison got up to shed some light on the ‘number one system in the world’. He’s a doctor, and a Tory. But he might have been reading from a Momentum press-release. Dr M told us that for heart attacks we are ‘in the bottom third’ globally. And for cancer survival ‘our closest match is Chile and Poland’. Which sounds terrible. But Dr M offered us a silver lining. A great brainwave has occurred to this eminent physician and he set forth his grand scheme to end the NHS’s troubles forever. He wants a royal commission on health and social care. What an idea! And who might lead such an august panel of highly-paid experts?
Dr M didn’t quite go as far as to propose himself but his job application has been noted.