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23 May 2018

PMQs review: Corbyn returns to safe ground to grill the PM on the NHS

But Corbyn's historical line of questioning left important topics unasked and unanswered.

By Dulcie Lee

After a two week winning streak, Corbyn was back on firm terrority for Labour at today’s PMQs: the NHS. Could he make it a hattrick? He began strong, asking: “In 2010, £4bn of NHS services were outsourced to private companies, how much is it today?”

May didn’t answer the question, instead opting to point out that the spend on the independent sector nearly doubled in the last four years of the Labour government. After Corbyn insisted he wanted figures for privatisation today, May scored a decent comeback by pointing out outsourcing is not increasing in England, but that is was under the Labour government in Wales.

The NHS is bread and butter for Labour and should be safe ground for PMQs, although in reality it often descends into a predictable scene: lots of throwing around statistics, May attempting to deflect any criticism by wheeling out Wales, and everyone left none the wiser. This time, it was PMQs NHS: Historical Edition.

Corbyn went on to accuse the Tories of tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before public service. May offered a weak rebuttal, claiming the Tories had stayed true to the founding principles, to which Corbyn retorted: “From the party that opposed the NHS in the first place, that is a bit rich.”

While this rebuttal was one of those gleeful gems that makes plenty of avid PMQs-watchers hearts’ skip, Corbyn going for the Tory party on their policies from 70 years ago was definitely a bizarre move, especially when there is no absence of material. He could have challenged the prime minister on reports that the government is gearing up to scrap some of Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act. That alone could have provided enough mileage.

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Corbyn’s obligatory rousing pre-question speech for social media was rather successful this week. After pointing out that this year is the 70th birthday of the NHS, he declared: “the NHS had reached this milestone with the worst A&E waits on record, the worst delays for cancer referrals on record, falling numbers of GPs, falling numbers of nurses, and the longest funding squeeze in history” and asked: “Why doesn’t the prime minister act now, act now to end the siphoning off billions of pounds from patient care and give it to the NHS the funding that it needs?”

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In response, May cited that cancer outcomes had improved (which is in huge part down to progress in medical research rather than direct NHS funding) and claimed that the current government could only put money into the NHS because they had a balanced economy. Maybe, if you ignore the rather dismal growth figures and the fact that the pound fell to a five month low this morning.