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​PM insists progress being made despite missing latest NHS targets

By Joe Cooper
11 April 2024
Public Affairs

Today, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted that the government was making progress in delivering on its priorities for cutting NHS waiting times, despite the latest data from NHS England revealing a failure to hit targets for its key metrics.  

​Data published by NHS England revealed that the overall waiting list now stands at 7.5 million, with an extra 300,000 patients waiting for hospital care compared to January 2023.  

​Speaking on the Today programme, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins admitted that the Prime Minister had fallen short so far in his pledge to bring waiting lists down and ensure quicker access to care. Atkins did point to the figures showing that the NHS waiting list had in fact fallen for the sixth month in a row to 7.5 million in February, but the overall waiting list still stands around 600,000 higher than when Sunak first came to office. ​​

Reducing waiting times for the NHS was one of the five key pledges Sunak set out at the start of 2023, along with halving inflation and easing the cost of living, growing the economy, and stopping the small boats. In setting out these pledges, Sunak invited the public to hold his government to account on each one of them. Well over a year on, the only one of these targets that the Prime Minister has definitively delivered against is the halving of inflation, while the jury very much remains out on the remaining four pledges. For a politician with a reputation as someone who can deliver, the results do not make for good reading for Sunak.  

The timing of today’s figures was compounded by an intervention from the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who criticised Sunak’s proposed smoking ban as ‘absolutely nuts’, in a speech delivered to the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference.  

Johnson still has some allies in the party, but the Prime Minister is unlikely to take these interventions any more seriously than those of his predecessor Liz Truss, who has similarly been vocal in opposition to what she sees as Sunak’s ‘nanny state’ approach. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would bar anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes, is expected to be put to MPs next week when Parliament returns.  

Though being offered a free vote to appease the more vocal conservatives on the backbenches, the Prime Minister has already received assurances that Labour will support the Bill in a move which should see it pass through the Commons.