The new prime minster must address health and social care funding as a priority, and revisit the pay offer he designed for NHS staff, health leaders have warned.
It was today announced that Rishi Sunak has become the new leader of the Conservative Party and will also become the UK’s new prime minister once he is formally appointed by the King.
“Nursing staff will remember that this year’s real-terms NHS pay cut was designed by Sunak from his treasury desk”
It is thought that Mr Sunak will formally take over as prime minister from Liz Truss tomorrow, who he came second against in the leadership contest over the summer.
The resignation of Ms Truss, who will have served as prime minister for 50 days, follows several economic U-turns made by the government in recent weeks, which also saw Kwasi Kwarteng sacked as chancellor of the exchequer and replaced by Jeremy Hunt.
Meanwhile, Suella Braverman resigned as home secretary after using her personal email to send an official document to a parliamentary colleague, and a parliamentary vote on fracking saw claims that Tory MPs were bullies into backing Ms Truss.
Mr Sunak, who was the former chancellor under Boris Johnson, has become leader of the party after Penny Mordaunt and Mr Johnson withdrew from the leadership race.
In a brief statement today, Mr Sunak said he was “humbled and honoured” to have the support of his parliamentary colleagues and to be elected as leader of the party.
He said: “The United Kingdom is a great country. But there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity. And I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.
“Because that is the only way we will overcome the challenges we face and build a better, more prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren. I pledge that I will serve you with integrity and humility and I will work day in day out to deliver for the British people.”
Responding to his appointment, those representing the nursing profession and the NHS have called for Mr Sunak to take action to tackle funding for the NHS, and to also revisit the pay awards for which he was the architect earlier this year as chancellor.
The general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said: “Rishi Sunak must now decide if he wants to be the prime minister who cut the NHS and social care to the bone or one that invested in its people, patients and priorities.
“He might be new to Number 10 but nursing staff will remember that this year’s real-terms NHS pay cut was designed by Sunak from his treasury desk.”
Three months since the pay announcement, which the RCN’s members overwhelmingly rejected, Ms Cullen said he “should have learnt what happens when prime ministers focus on the wealthy and neglect workers”.
Ms Cullen added that in the final days of the RCN ballot, which will close at 12noon on 2 November, “members will be sending a strong message to the new prime minister”.
Pay and funding has also been flagged up as a key concern by Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers.
Ms Cordery said: “We need decisive action to tackle funding for public services that is diminishing daily due to soaring inflation, the cost of pay awards not fully funded by the government, and cuts in funding to deal with the ongoing costs of Covid-19.
“We need bold steps to tackle the key challenges facing the NHS and social care, including severe staff shortages, treatment backlogs, NHS funding and social care reform.”
Ms Cordery said that NHS trust leaders do not need any more “political and economic upheaval and uncertainty”.
She called on the new prime minister and his government to deliver on their promises and to “focus on the major and mounting concerns affecting health and care”.
Ms Cordery added: “Trust leaders know tough times and difficult decisions are ahead. But enforcing further efficiencies or raiding capital budgets to make up for shortfalls in NHS funding is not the answer.
“There is a very real risk this could further delay access to treatments at a time when trusts are doing everything they can to navigate these challenges.
“We are urging the new prime minister and his government to work with leaders across the NHS and social care to find solutions.”
Meanwhile, the union Unison, which is also balloting its members on pay, has called for a general election following the announcement of Mr Sunak’s appointment.
Unison’s general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The depth of the crisis facing the UK is too serious to be left to the Conservatives to solve.
“Changing leaders won’t make a shred of difference. The shambles of the past few weeks proves the Tories are no longer fit to govern.
“It’s time to let voters choose a new government in Westminster. The public wants a general election. They’ve had enough of the musical chairs at the top of government. If Rishi Sunak is so confident he has the answers to the UK’s problems, he should go to the country now.”