PMQs: Theresa May repeats herself five times on the NHS, but doesn’t give an answer

Corbyn must figure out how to break down May's flimsy defences

This is getting old.

At Prime Ministers Questions today, Theresa May answered Jeremy Corbyn’s questions on the NHS with the same tired response that the Conservatives have been leaning on for seven years.

Corbyn opened with a question on government cuts to the number of hospital beds ‘when hospitals are struggling to provide essential care’.

May responded:

“Let’s actually look at Labour’s record on this issue. In the last six years of the last Labour government, 25,000 hospital beds were cut. But we don’t even need to go as far back as that. Let’s just look at what was Labour’s policy before the last election. Because before the last election, the Rt Hon Member for Leigh, a former Labour shadow health secretary, said the following ‘what I’d cut are hospital beds’. Labour policy — cut hospital beds.”

Corbyn reminded May that ‘in 2010, there was the highest ever level of satisfaction with the NHS delivered by the Labour government’ but that didn’t stop May from trotting out variations the same answer four more times in response to his subsequent questions, on waiting times, social care, nurses bursaries and patients on trolleys.

This trend presents a major challenge to the Labour leadership team. Week in, week out, the PM is getting away with offering the same threadbare response, despite the fact that she is misrepresenting both Labour’s policy in government and its 2015 election promises.

If Corbyn is going to continue pressing the government on the NHS he must, at the very least, develop an effective strategy for pointing out May’s obfuscations, and for explaining why Labour has a vastly better record that the Conservatives on the NHS.

However, May’s approach, as we have pointed out plenty of times before, shows contempt for the parliamentary process.

She knows full well that comparisons between absolute spending a decade ago and absolute spending today are meaningless; the comparison must be based on real terms spending. Additionally, when assessing NHS spending, government must also factor in that fact that the population is both growing and ageing.

And when that context is provided, the independent IFS has projected that Department of Health spending will be lower in 2020 than it was in 2010.

May knows that her defence of Tory health spending is flimsy and, considering that she is still not a confident PMQs performer, it shouldn’t be difficult to break it down.

But for now, her phone-in responses are working well enough. Unless Corbyn changes his strategy, the PM won’t change hers.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

See: ‘Permanent winter’ is coming in the NHS

See: Social care could ‘completely collapse’ this year or next, warns Age UK

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