The crisis in the NHS dominated raucous exchanges in the Commons as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn clashed in the first Prime Minister’s Questions of 2018.
The Labour leader accused the Prime Minister of being “too weak” to sack Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been a lightning rod for criticism in his more than five years in the role.
Mrs May attacked her opposite number’s portrayal of the state of the health service, telling MPs that if you were to believe Mr Corbyn, everyone who turns up at hospital is being failed by the NHS.
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She repeated her apology to patients who have been impacted by the unprecedented pressures on the NHS, which has seen thousands of operations scrapped.
Mrs May again defended preparations and said “record funding” was being put in.
But Mr Corbyn said the PM had recognised there was a “crisis” because she at first wanted to sack Mr Hunt in her Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Hunt, who has been in the role since 2012, survived and was given an expanded brief, with social care now included in his portfolio.
The Labour leader used his time at the dispatch box to lay into what he sees as the government’s failings on the NHS, telling the Commons that nurses were “spending their entire shift treating people in car parks” due to long queues of ambulances.
He added: “We know the Prime Minister recognises there’s a crisis in our NHS because she wanted to sack the Health Secretary last week but was too weak to do it.
“And if the NHS is so well-resourced and so well-prepared, why was a decision taken last week to cancel the operations of 55,000 patients during the month of January?”
Members of Labour’s frontbench shouted “apologise” at Mrs May as she responded, with the PM telling them she had already made clear her contrition earlier.
She added: “We will make sure those operations are reinstated as soon as possible. We are putting record funding into the NHS and record funding into mental health.”
Mr Corbyn cited the experience of an 82-year-old woman who spent 13 hours lying on a trolley in a corridor, having been taken to hospital by ambulance three hours after calling 999.
He said this case was far from an “isolated”, adding: “Does the Prime Minister really believe the NHS is better prepared than ever for the crisis it’s now going through?”
Mrs May told MPs she would look into the case and went on to say: “Week in and week out, in the run-up to Christmas and now today, what (Mr Corbyn) is doing is giving the impression of a National Health Service that is failing everybody that goes to use the NHS.
“The reality in our NHS is that we are seeing 2.9 million more people now going to accident and emergency, over 2 million more operations taking place each year.
“Our National Health Service is something we should be proud of and that’s why it’s a first-class National Health Service.”
Mr Corbyn said it was the actions of the Government that was “pushing our NHS into crisis”.
He added: “The Health Secretary, during his occupation of her office to keep his job, said he won’t abandon the ship.
“Isn’t that an admission that, under his captaincy, the ship is indeed sinking?”
Mrs May rejected the claim by defending the Government’s funding plans for the health service.
The testy exchanges came as MPs debated a Labour motion – which the Government will abstain on – expressing “concern at the effect on patient care of the closure of 14,000 hospital beds since 2010”.
It also calls on the Government to “increase cash limits for the current year” in order for hospitals to reschedule elective operations.
Although the NHS dominated, there was an awkward moment for Mrs May when she attacked the absence of Labour’s Angela Rayner – who is away receiving medical treatment.
The PM was criticising Labour’s plans for increased public spending – referencing recent comments by Ms Rayner – when she pointed out that she was not in the chamber.
When the Labour frontbench shouted the reason for the shadow education secretary’s absence, Mrs May responded: “Oh, I do apologise.
“No, I didn’t realise the shadow education secretary was herself undergoing medical treatment. I apologise unreservedly for that comment.”