The Prime Minister should come up with an emergency plan to reduce record waiting lists in the NHS, a group of celebrities and NHS workers have said.
Millions of people stuck on the waiting lists are “getting sicker while waiting” and the situation is causing them “anxiety and uncertainty, according to presenter Stephen Fry, comedian Jo Brand, former NHS doctor and comedian Adam Kay and poet Michael Rosen.
The group have signed an open letter calling for the Government to act to “get waiting times falling immediately”.
Some 73,000 people have signed the letter including more than 1,000 NHS workers.
It comes as junior doctors enter the second day of strikes.
Medics in training from the British Medical Association are staging the longest consecutive walk out in NHS history – striking for six whole days from 7am on January 3.
Mr Sunak has said previously that doctors’ strikes have held back progress on his pledge to reduce NHS waiting times.
Exactly one year ago, the Prime Minister said that cutting the NHS waiting list was one of his top priorities, and he pledged that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.
He said that he wanted the country to hold him to account for delivering on the pledge.
The number of patients waiting for treatments has gone up from an estimated 6.08 million in January 2023 to 6.44 million in October, the latest figure available.
And the number of treatments waiting to be carried out has gone up from 7.21 million in January 2023 to 7.71 million in October.
The new letter, published by the campaign group 38 Degrees, states: “In January 2023 you pledged that getting waiting times falling was one of your ‘top five priorities’. We were grateful to see a political leader hold themselves accountable for getting NHS waiting lists in England to fall.
“However, since then waiting times have gone up – and it’s time for you to be held to account.
“We demand that you end your attempts to pit patients and NHS staff against each other. We can’t wait, we won’t wait. We need an emergency plan, which gives the NHS whatever it needs, to get waiting times falling immediately.”
Matthew McGregor, CEO at 38 Degrees, said: “A year ago today, Rishi Sunak promised that NHS waiting lists would fall – and he told the public to ‘hold him to account’ on that promise. Yet in the last 365 days waiting lists have soared to record heights.
“Mr Sunak asked to be held to account, so that’s exactly what we’re doing. As we enter an election year, with the NHS top of voters’ minds, enough is enough – we can’t wait any longer.”
Alan Sabin told 38 Degrees that his life has been put “on hold” during his five month wait after being diagnosed with heart failure.
The 73-year-old, from Eastbourne, was diagnosed with heart failure in August 2023 and is still waiting for his initial appointment.
“Hopefully, by the end of this month I’ll have a definite plan for how to treat my heart failure – but until then, I’m left sitting here, with my life on hold. I can’t drive or do anything active, I’m short of breath, I can’t walk any real distance,” he said.
“As someone who is on a waiting list, I do blame the Government for what is happening to the NHS – I certainly don’t blame NHS workers who’ve been forced to strike for decent pay and conditions.
“The most important thing in our NHS is its staff, and the Government needs to sit down with NHS workers and give them what they need to make sure we have enough qualified, professional staff to bring these waiting lists down.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said that cutting waiting lists is one of the Government’s “top five priorities”, adding: “The Secretary of State’s priorities are to deliver a faster, simpler and fairer health and care system.
“We are investing record funding for the NHS, and there are record numbers of doctors and nurses. Waits of 18 months are already down more than 90% from their peak in September 2021.
“To improve access to lifesaving tests and checks alongside cutting down on unnecessary hospital trips, we have opened 141 community diagnostic centres and we’re drawing on spare capacity in the independent sector so NHS patients can be treated more quickly.”