Health Secretary admits NHS under pressure but says it is due to Covid pandemic

Steve Barclay defended plans for the NHS announced in the Autumn Statement (BBC)
Steve Barclay defended plans for the NHS announced in the Autumn Statement (BBC)

Health SecretarySteve Barclay has admitted the NHS is under “huge pressure” but that the Covid pandemic has been a major factor in the issues which have pushed the health service to breaking point.

Despite recognising the difficulties of the health service, such as rising waiting lists, a nursing strike, and A&E waiting times, Mr Barclay said the Government is working to resolve the issues across the health service.

“I recognise as a consequence of the pandemic that GP appointments have become under pressure,” he told Sky News.

“We are looking at new technology in order to avoid the scramble of calls to a GP in the morning. It’s about looking at new technology, boosting new skills in the NHS and increasing the number of GPs.”

Showed a graph of surging A&E waiting times, Mr Barclay again insisted that issues were “being driven by the pandemic”.

Speaking later to Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Barclay said it was a difficult decision to delay reforms to the NHS, but insisted that elements of the Chancellor’s statement would go some way to addressing social and A&E departments.

Pressed on plans to scale back NHS targets, Mr Barclay said “there is a place for targets but if everything is a priority, nothing’s a priority."

He said that at a local level, officials are "better able to tailor the priorities for their local needs".

"No-one is suggesting we don’t have any targets," he said.

His comments come as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) gave the Government an ultimatum to hold “detailed negotiations” on pay or it will announce strike dates for December after members voted in favour to do so last week.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, following the autumn statement, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said the Chancellor demonstrated that "the Government remains unprepared to give my members the support they need at work and at home".

The RCN announced that nursing staff at the majority of NHS employers across the UK had voted to take strike action over pay and patient safety.

Commenting on the strike action, Mr Barclay said it is "important to look at the package" being offered to nurses as a whole, rather than just pay.

"I am very keen to engage with the trade unions my door is open," he added.