A cabinet minister has defended Rishi Sunak’s use of a private GP promising “on the day” appointments, insisting he has shown his commitment to the NHS by giving it more cash.
The prime minister is under fire over his registration with a west London clinic charging a reported £250 for a half-hour consultation, with appointments in the evenings and at weekends.
It has been revealed as NHS patients wait ever longer to see a GP – with just 41.5 per cent of appointments in September taking place on the same day, official figures show.
The head of the NHS Support Federation, Paul Evans, said private healthcare is “not a realistic option for most people”, adding: “Of course the PM can ‘go private’ if he wishes.”
But Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, described Mr Sunak’s choice as “a private matter”, after No 10 declined to comment on the revelation.
“Judge him by his actions, and the health secretary’s actions, on the NHS,” Mr Stride told Sky News, pointing to an extra £3.3bn unveiled for the health service in last week’s autumn statement.
“One was an increased commitment to funding education, but the other was the health service and social care, which actually got quite a lot of money in the near-term.
“The commitment that we have to the NHS is absolutely central to this government. That is something that’s very much driven from the top by the prime minister.”
The £3.3bn top-up was seen as the bare minimum to stave off the feared collapse of NHS services over the winter and too little to tackle the vast patient backlog.
At 2.9 per cent, it falls far short of the current inflation rate of 11.1 per cent and is “hundreds of millions of pounds short of what is needed”, experts told The Independent.
Mr Sunak has repeatedly refused to discuss his healthcare arrangements, telling reporters at last week’s G20 summit it is “not appropriate” to talk “about one’s family’s healthcare”.
He ducked the issue at prime minister’s questions earlier this month when asked by MPs if he would use the NHS if he or a family member became unwell – or “pay privately” to see a medic more quickly.
Use of a private GP has echoes of Margaret Thatcher revealing she had private health insurance, in order to “go into hospital on the day I want, at the time I want, and with a doctor I want”.
In contrast, David Cameron made a virtue of using the NHS during his time as prime minister, while Boris Johnson thanked it for saving his life when he caught Covid.
Chris Thomas, head of the Commission on Health and Prosperity at the IPPR thinktank, said: “The shame about the PM using private healthcare is that he’ll miss the chance to see the pressures and challenges facing the NHS. Stage managed site visits are no substitution for the real thing.”