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Doctors criticise Boris Johnson over looming NHS winter crisis ahead of election

Downing Street was taking emergency measures to keep the effects of winter pressures in the NHS to a minimum.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA)

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Doctors have accused Boris Johnson of only recognising an “unprecedented” NHS crisis coming this winter because of fears it will hamper the Tories chances in the General Election.

The British Medical Association criticised ministers over the state of the health service as the Observer reported growing concerns in the Government ahead of the December 12 poll.

The criticism came as the Prime Minister faced calls to permanently ban fracking after performing a major U-turn to suspend the controversial process over earthquake concerns.

Jeremy Corbyn said imposing the moratorium in the run-up to the vote was an “election stunt”, after Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the position could be reversed.

But, despite the criticism, several polls suggested the Tories were riding high in the public’s opinion with a significant lead over Labour.

With the first December election since 1923 looming, Downing Street was taking emergency measures to keep the effects of winter pressures in the NHS to a minimum.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Under this Government’s watch, patients and staff working in the NHS have endured winter after winter of overcrowded emergency departments, long delays and pitifully low staffing levels.

“It should not take an election to take stock of just how bad the situation has become.

“Staff are already coming under extreme pressure, trolley waits are at a worryingly high level, A&E targets are not being met and as such, the BMA predicts that the NHS is hurtling towards an unprecedented crisis this winter.”

Downing Street insiders, however, said they did not recognise the report that an “operations unit” was being planned for No 10 over the annual strain on the health service.

A ComRes poll for the Sunday Express put the Tories on 36%, eight points ahead of Labour.

And a YouGov survey for the Sunday Times suggested Labour had gained six points since the MPs voted for an early election, but that the party was still 12 points behind the Tories on 39%.

While the polls do not strive to say what will happen on the election day, they do give a picture of what the public is thinking at the time when they were carried out.

The different results between various polls suggested public opinion is in a state of flux.

Mr Johnson will be looking to move on from the fracking U-turn after he dropped the Tory’s long-term support for shale gas extraction.

In the past he has hailed it as a potential “answer to the nation’s prayers”, but now concedes he has “very considerable anxieties”.

The suspension came after an Oil and Gas Authority report found it is not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking.

Ms Leadsom on Saturday said the suspension was a “disappointment” and made it clear it will only be in place “until the science changes”.

Opposition leaders were critical, with Mr Corbyn saying: “It seems to me like an election stunt and I think it’s what’s called euphemistically a bit of greenwash.”

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats attempted to increase press on ITV to include leader Jo Swinson in the first live debate between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn on November 19.

In a formal complaint to chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall, Lib Dem president Baroness Brinton suggested the broadcaster was helping the leaders of the two largest parties “stitch up the debates”.

ITV, however, said it was already scheduling a separate live debate to include seven party leaders, as well as the head-to-head.

And the broadcaster said Ms Swinson and other party leaders have been invited to take part in a live interview programme later on during the night of the Corbyn-Johnson debate.

PA

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