After refusing three times to say whether he uses private healthcare, Rishi Sunak admitted to having had “independent healthcare in the past” at Prime Minister’s Questions on 11 January.
While emphasising that he was registered with an “NHS GP”, the Prime Minister conceded that he had previously paid for care. He provided no information about when, however.
Sunak’s reluctance to reveal his and his family’s healthcare situation suggested he felt the public would be against such privileges – especially as the NHS crumbles. Yet exclusive new polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals that the majority of Brits (54 per cent) believe it is acceptable for the Prime Minister to use private healthcare instead of the NHS. Nearly a third (32 per cent) said it was not acceptable, while 14 per cent didn’t know.
This is perhaps unsurprising. First, Sunak is well known to be extremely wealthy and therefore likely to have private cover or the ability to pay for care. Second, as our previous research on attitudes towards wealth has shown, the British public generally take an aspirational view rather than resenting privilege. Third, more and more people in the UK are resorting to private healthcare, as they collide with record NHS waiting lists.
What is more intriguing is that Sunak didn’t seem to know this. Rather, it is Keir Starmer who seems better informed about public opinion on this issue. He chose not to question Sunak about it at PMQs, leaving it instead to the Labour backbencher Cat Smith, who bagged the first question.
This is a strategy the Labour leader’s office appears to have settled on over the Prime Minister’s wealth in general. Starmer rises above it, for the majority of voters who don’t care about Sunak using private healthcare, but turns a blind eye to pot-shots from non-shadow cabinet MPs for the third who do.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 11 January 2023 for the New Statesman.