Rishi Sunak conceded that “it will take time” for the overall NHS waiting list to come down, as he hailed a plan that will see the “largest expansion in training and workforce” in its history.
The Prime Minister said his NHS Long Term Workforce Plan will “reduce our reliance on foreign-trained healthcare professionals” and ensure the UK has the doctors and nurses it needs “for years into the future”.
He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show: “This week we’re going to do something that no government has ever done.
“It’s going to be one of the most significant announcements in the history of the NHS, and that is to make sure that it has a long-term workforce plan so that we can hire the doctors, nurses and GPs that we need, not just today, but for years into the future, to provide the care that we all need.”
He said it amounts to the “largest expansion in training and workforce in the NHS’s history.
“But it’s also going to draw on the latest innovations and techniques to streamline the process from classroom to clinic, because it’s right that healthcare adapts and evolves as our needs change.”
Pressed on how long it will take to see the benefits of the changes, he conceded it could take “five, 10, 15 years for these things to come through”.
The long-delayed plan is expected to be published this week.
Mr Sunak was accused by Kuenssberg of picking selective statistics when he said the number of people waiting two years for treatment was last year “practically eliminated”.
The presenter pointed out that the overall number of people waiting is the highest that is has ever been.
Mr Sunak, who has made reducing waiting times on of his five priorities, replied: “It’s because we’ve had a pandemic, Laura, the backlog that ensued was always going to take some time to work through…
“Because of our record investment today, because of the plans that we’ve put in place, we are seeing that waiting lists are coming down for individual people.”
“I’ve always said the overall waiting list was not going to come down until next year.”
Writing about the NHS workforce plan in The Sunday Times, Mr Sunak said: “It will ensure we train, retain, reform and make the most of our talented and experienced staff.
“It will be a 15-year plan to give the NHS certainty, because we recognise it takes time to train these staff, who are among the most highly skilled in our society.
“We will be using the latest techniques and innovations to streamline the journey from classroom to clinic, to get more patients the care they need.
“And it will be backed by government funding and support, balanced against the wider pressures on the economy.”
Mr Sunak described the plan as the “cornerstone” of his Government’s vision for “a better, more modern healthcare system”, adding: “I feel a great responsibility to ensure our NHS endures.”
The newspaper reported that the proposals could include a doubling of medical training places for doctors, with additional funding agreed with the Treasury to pay for it, although the Prime Minister did not confirm this when asked by Kuenssberg.
It comes days after junior doctors in England announced they would be staging a five-day strike next month in a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the Government over pay and staffing.
Members of the British Medical Association will walk out from July 13 to 18 in what the association said is thought to be the longest single period of industrial action in the history of the health service.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Had the Conservatives trained the staff the NHS needs over the past 13 years, it would not be going through the biggest crisis in its history today. And still they have no plan to stop staff leaving today, end the strikes, or to reform the NHS.
“It appears the Government’s plan is not fully funded. The question for Rishi Sunak is, why won’t he abolish the non-dom tax status to pay for it?
“The Government seems to be adopting Labour’s plan, which we announced nine months ago. It shows the Conservatives have no ideas of their own, while Labour is ready to govern.”