Jeremy Hunt apologises for cancelled operations as Theresa May denies NHS 'crisis'
3 January 2018, 13:00
Jeremy Hunt has apologised to tens of thousands of patients whose operations were cancelled after hospitals reported extraordinary winter pressure.
The Health Secretary admitted the situation was "absolutely not what I want".
He told Sky News: "If you are someone whose operation has been delayed I don't belittle that for one moment, and indeed I apologise to everyone who that has happened to."
But he said that "reluctantly" postponing treatment to ease pressures on A&E; departments was "better for people".
The comments came after Theresa May denied the health service was in "crisis", saying it was more prepared "than ever before".
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On Tuesday, NHS England told hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations, leading to tens of thousands of cancellations.
After medics said they were struggling to cope with patient numbers, Mr Hunt offered a "massive" thank you for their "heroic" work and praised them "going beyond the call of duty in every possible way".
Mr Hunt explained that under similar pressure in 2016, hospitals were calling patients the night before an operation and cancelling as the scale of the crisis grew.
But this year a "planned, methodical and thoughtful" approach was being taken, he said.
Pressed on whether more money was needed for social care to ease the pressure on frontline hospital staff, Mr Hunt told Sky News: "There are undoubtedly pressures throughout the whole system.
"I think Theresa May has realised how important social care is to the NHS."
The PM also gave a "huge" thank you to health service staff doing a "fantastic" job.
But she said: "The NHS has been better prepared for this winter than ever before, we have put extra funding in.
''There are more beds available across the system, we've reduced the number of delayed discharges of elderly people who would otherwise have been in NHS beds rather than in social care."
John Ashworth, Labour's shadow health secretary, responded: "Yet again Theresa May reveals how entirely out of touch she is. Next, she will be trying to lecture patients that 'nothing has changed' for patients.
"The reality is we see hospitals at full capacity, ambulances backed up, cancelled operations and patients waiting for hours on trolleys.
"Instead of burying her head in the sand, Theresa May needs to explain why she has allowed underfunding and cuts to health and social care to continue."
Doctors in southeast London told Sky News earlier that nearly all hospitals in the area were at breaking point, with corridors packed full of patients on trollies.
Meanwhile, the East of England Ambulance Trust said they had to use taxis to take 13 patients to hospital over the New Year because all ambulances were queuing outside hospitals.