Keir Starmer has urged Rishi Sunak to apologise for ambulance waiting times and the “the lethal chaos under his watch”.
At prime minister’s questions, he asked how long, on average, it would take for an ambulance called at that moment by someone with chest pains to arrive, also highlighting the real-life example of a 26-year-old woman who died while waiting for one.
Sunak largely avoided direct answers to Starmer’s questioning, instead repeatedly asking the Labour leader why he did not support the government’s planned anti-strike law, which would impose minimum service levels in some public services, including ambulances and healthcare.
Beginning the pair’s exchanges, Starmer asked: “It’s three minutes past 12. If somebody phones 999 now because they have chest pains and fear it might be a heart attack, when would the prime minister expect an ambulance to arrive?”
The government was, Sunak replied, “rapidly implementing measures to improve the delivery of ambulance times”, but did not answer.
Starmer went on: “The prime minister can deflect all he likes, but for the person suffering from chest pains the clock started ticking straight away – every minute counts.”
After the PM refused to answer the same question again, instead talking about the anti-strike law, Starmer said Sunak “obviously doesn’t know or doesn’t care” about ambulance waiting times.
On average, an ambulance called for chest pains at 12.03pm would arrive at 2.10pm for a patient in Peterborough, at 2.20pm in Northampton and at 2.40pm in Plymouth, Starmer said.
He added: “Someone who fears a heart attack waiting more than two and a half hours for an ambulance. Not the worst-case scenario, just the average wait. So for one week will he stop blaming others, take some responsibility, and just admit that on his watch the NHS is in crisis, isn’t it?”
The NHS was, Sunak replied, “dealing with unprecedented challenges, recovering from Covid, dealing with a very virulent and early flu season”, arguing that the situation was even worse in Labour-run Wales.
Starmer replied: “He won’t answer any questions and he won’t take any responsibility.” The Labour leader cited the example of Stephanie, a woman with cancer, who died while waiting for an ambulance after collapsing in Plymouth.
“So on behalf of Stephanie and her family, will he please stop the excuses, stop shifting the blame stuff, stop the political games and simply tell us when he will sort out these delays and get back to the 18-minute wait?” Starmer said, referring to the target response time for so-called category 2 calls such as chest pain.
Sunak instead called Starmer “a living example of playing political games when it comes to people’s healthcare”.
The Labour leader said: “So that’s his answer to Stephanie’s family: deflect, blame others, never take responsibility. If he won’t answer any questions, will he at least apologise for the lethal chaos under his watch?”
Sunak declined to do so, using a seemingly pre-scripted line about what he called Starmer’s “free movement of principles”.