The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new record high, PA Media reports. PA says:
An estimated 7.2 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of October, NHS England said.
This is up from 7.1 million in September and is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
An estimated 410,983 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment at the end of October, NHS England said.
This is up from 404,851 at the end of September, and is the equivalent of around one in 18 people on the entire waiting list.
The government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.
In her interviews this morning Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, confirmed that soldiers will be used to carry out passport checks when Border Force staff go on strike over Christmas. She told Sky News:
It’s very disappointing that Border Force will be striking over Christmas.
We are doing our best to mitigate as far as possible. So in the case of Border Force, we’ve got 2,000 military personnel who are trained who are going to try and mitigate and try and help with some of those roles at the border.
But you know, we do expect there will be disruption and delays but they will do their best and they’re also helping with the health service as well.
The army could also be brought in to cover when ambulance drivers and firefighters go on strike and this morning the Daily Telegraph says senior figures in the military are unhappy about how the armed forces are being used in this way. “Soldiers should not be made to give up Christmas to cover for striking NHS workers who earn more than them, senior military figures have told ministers,” Danielle Sheridan, Daniel Martin spirit Camilla Turner report in their story. They say:
The Telegraph has been told that the military believes it is “not right” for soldiers, who are banned by law from striking themselves, to replace striking public sector workers over the festive season.
Senior members of the Armed Forces are understood to have also warned ministers that the plan risks weakening the “operational capability” of the military to respond to threats.
One senior defense source said: “You’ve only got to look at a private soldier on £22,000 a year and whose pay scales have not kept up with inflation for the last decade having to give up Christmas, or come straight off operations, to cover for people who want 19 per cent and are already paid in excess of what he or she would be, and it’s just not right.
“We’ve got to the stage now where the Government’s first lever it reaches for every time there is any difficulty, whether it’s floods, strikes, all the rest of it, is the Armed Forces, as opposed to it being the last resort. “
Asked about this story, Keegan said that solidiers had “a sense of duty” and “we should all be very thankful for their service”.
Good morning. After three years of dawdling, the government is suddenly ramping up its plans to tighten the laws on strikes that affect public services, in ways that would be hugely controversial, amounting, potentially, to the biggest restriction on trade unions since the 1980s.
In their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservatives said: “We will require that a minimum service operates during transport strikes. Rail workers deserve a fair deal, but it is not fair to let the trade unions undermine the livelihoods of others.”
For almost three years nothing happened, partly because of Covid. In October the then transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, did get round to publishing a transport strikes (minimum service levels) bill. But this was in the dying days of the Liz Truss administration, when the crisis triggered by the mini-budget was at its height, and the first reading of the bill passed almost unnoticed.
Yesterday morning Mark Harper, the current transport secretary, told MPs that he could not say when the legislation would progress, and he implied it wasn’t a top priority for him anyway.
But a couple of hours later Rishi Sunak told PMQs he was planning “tough” legislation and No 10 gave a briefing suggestion that nurses and ambulance drivers could also be banned from going on strike by the bill, which would be a significant extension of what was originally planned.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has been giving interviews this morning, and she confirmed that health staff could have their right to strike restricted under plans being considered by the government. She told Sky News:
We do have some areas where strikes are not allowed as part of the contract. So, for example, the military can’t go on strike and the police. There’s some people… as a matter of public safety, you can’t go on strike.
And what we’re looking at is, are there other areas that we should include in that? Health would be one to look at and other areas of critical infrastructure.
But when Keegan was asked if teachers should be included in a new public services anti-strike law of this kind, she said she did not know and had not looked at the issue.
I will post more from her interviews shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, takes questions in the Commons.
9.30am: NHS England publishes monthly performance figures.
10.30am: Keir Starmer speaks at the opening of Labour’s business conference 2022. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, is also speaking.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
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