An attempt by Matt Hancock to defuse a row over a sick child who was forced to lie on a hospital floor while he waited for treatment descended into farce today after a Labour activist was falsely accused of punching an aide to the Health Secretary.
Mr Hancock was sent to Leeds General Infirmary after a photograph of four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr was widely publicised.
The Cabinet minister was confronted by Labour activists as he left the hospital and BBC and ITV reporters then suggested that one of Mr Hancock’s advisers had been punched as things ‘turned nasty’.
Tory sources said they believed a protestor had hit the adviser – understood to be Jamie Njoku-Goodwin – in the face.
However, a video of the incident then emerged which showed Mr Njoku-Goodwin had been accidentally struck by the protestor’s hand as the latter pointed and both men were looking in different directions.
Conservative sources claimed Labour had been ‘whipping up’ activists to spoil Tory events, and there had been offers to pay for taxi fares to go and confront Mr Hancock.
But Labour accused the Tories of having ‘resorted to bare faced lying’.
The accidental collision in Leeds came shortly after Jeremy Corbyn had delivered an angry speech to a crowd in Bristol, where he brandished a copy of the photo of the sick boy – who had flu and tonsillitis.
And in a bizarre spat earlier, Boris Johnson took an ITV reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket after being confronted with the picture.
The four-year-old was taken to the hospital by ambulance last week with suspected pneumonia.
As there were no beds and the department was experiencing its busiest week since 2016, the boy was left lying on a pile of coats in a clinical treatment room, attached to an oxygen mask. The child was later diagnosed with flu and tonsillitis.
Speaking on the election trail in the north of England earlier, the Prime Minister said sorry and pointed to the huge investment being pledged by the Tories.
But when ITV reporter Jo Pike tried to show him the picture of the boy on his phone, Mr Johnson declined to look at it. He eventually took the device and put it in his pocket.
Jack Williment-Barr (pictured) was taken to Leeds General Infirmary by ambulance last week only to be left in a clinical treatment room as there were no beds
When ITV reporter Jo Pike tried to show Boris Johnson the picture of the boy on his phone, Mr Johnson declined to look at it. He eventually took the device and put it in his pocket,
Shortly before the row broke out at Leeds hospital Jeremy Corbyn had riled up a crowd in Bristol using the picture of the boy sleeping on the floor
When Pike described what the premier had done, Mr Johnson retrieved the mobile and did inspect the picture.
‘It’s a terrible, terrible photo. And I apologise obviously to the families and all those who have terrible experiences in the NHS,’ he said.
‘But what we are doing is supporting the NHS, and on the whole I think patients in the NHS have a much, much better experience than this poor kid has had.
‘That’s why we’re making huge investments into the NHS, and we can only do it if we get Parliament going, if we unblock the current deadlock, and we move forward.’
At the end of the interview, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m sorry to have taken your phone. There you go.’
The odd exchange was seized on by Mr Corbyn, who insisted it showed that Mr Johnson did not care about patients.
Mr Johnson was also grilled on the interview as he answered questions from journalists at the event in Sunderland.
He replied: ‘We are not only investing in children’s services in Leeds but we’re also rebuilding the whole Leeds Infirmary from top to bottom.
‘And we can do that because we’re now putting the biggest ever investment into the NHS.
‘What I don’t want to see is a fantastic programme that is going to unite and level up our country being blocked again.’
During his visit to the hospital, Mr Hancock told reporters the treatment of Jack Williment-Barr was ‘not good enough’
‘I am very proud of what we are doing to rebuild Leeds General Infirmary. It will be a fantastic project,’ he said.
A video posted to social media showed Mr Hancock being heckled by protesters as he left Leeds General Infirmary.
The Cabinet minister could be seen speaking on the phone and hastily entering a car, as demonstrators shouted ‘shame on you’ and ‘you are not welcome in this hospital, you are not welcome in this country’.
His aide Mr Njoku-Goodwin did not enter the car but was involved in a further exchange with the protesters. As he walked away he accidentally came into contact with a moving arm – although it is not clear whether he knew where the contact came from or could tell whether it was intended.
A Labour Party spokeswoman said: ‘The Tories are so desperate to distract from a four year old boy sleeping on a hospital floor because of their cuts to our NHS that they have resorted to bare faced lying.
‘This is a new low and the Conservative Party has serious questions to answer.’
During his visit to the hospital, Mr Hancock told reporters the treatment of Jack Williment-Barr was ‘not good enough’.
He said: ‘To tell you the truth, I was horrified. I have got three small children myself, I have spent too many evenings in A&E and I know what it feels like and I want to make it better.
‘One of the good things about what is happening at the Leeds General is they had already identified the problems on this unit and the fact that there wasn’t enough space and they have got a plan, a funded plan, to make sure – in fact they are trebling the size of the unit next year.
‘We are putting in the record amount of funding, the biggest ever injection into the NHS. That is needed. It is funded because we have got record numbers of people in work and we are able to fund it.
‘But I want make sure the NHS is always there for everybody who needs it and that means constantly looking to see what improvements need to be made.
He added: ‘It is not good enough and I have apologised. I think the trust have handled it very well. The staff here have been brilliant and Jack’s family have been at pains to point out that the staff have been absolutely superb.’
In Grimsby earlier, Mr Johnson was asked if he had an apology for the family.
He said: ‘Yeah, I do, and this is exactly why we need to move on.
‘We’re putting £34billion into the NHS now, this is the biggest investment we’ve seen in modern times but we need to drive it forward.’
Mr Johnson said there is ‘so much more that needs to be done’, adding: ‘That is why we just need to unblock the politics of this country and move forward.’
Speaking to LBC the Prime Minister said he wanted to apologise to ‘everyone who has a bad experience’.
The Prime Minister added: ‘By and large I think the NHS do an amazing job, and I think they deserve all praise for the service they provide.
‘But they do need investment and that’s why we’re doing it now.
Sarah Williment with her son Jack, who was forced to sleep on the floor due to a shortage of beds at a busy time in the Leeds A&E
Mr Johnson was asked about the ITV interview as he answered questions from workers in Sunderland today, and insisted he was ramping up investment in the NHS
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Grimsby Fish Market, while on the General Election campaign trail, where he apologised to the family of Jack Williment-Barr
‘But they need investment from a One Nation government that really cares and understands – that’s us that cares and understands – and you need long-term funding.’
Mother Sarah Williment, a primary school assistant from Leeds, described the situation as a ‘crisis’.
She said: ‘[Jack] spent eight-and-a-half hours in A&E… Jack wasn’t provided with a bed on a ward until 13-and-a-half hours later.’
Jack was eventually diagnosed with influenza A and tonsillitis.
Mr Hancock thanked ‘tireless’ hospital staff, adding: ‘Leeds has been allocated £600million of funding as part of our commitment to build 40 new hospitals.’
One-fifth of patients in A&E must wait more than 12 hours for a bed, experts claim
More than 1 in 20 patients who went to A&E last week waited at least 12 hours for a bed, experts have claimed.
All patients are supposed to be seen within a target of four hours, but thousands are being ‘stranded on a trolley in a corridor’ as the NHS faces its worst winter crisis in history.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) analysed data from 50 A&E departments which provide around one third of the UK’s acute hospital beds.
More than 1 in 20 patients who went to A&E last week waited at least 12 hours for a bed, experts have claimed (file image)
Its report shows in the first week of December, some 5,171 of the 103,099 patients who attended these hospitals were stuck in A&E for more than 12 hours.
Only 68 per cent of patients were seen within the target of four hours – the worst performance on record and 10 per cent lower than the same point last year.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) said: ‘Our hospitals are treating a record number of people, and with increasing demand we are putting a record £33.9billion extra funding into our NHS’
In recent days there has been chaos at A&E departments, with dozens of ambulances queuing outside hospitals because hospital beds were unavailable.
The crisis was made worse by a norovirus outbreak that closed more than 1,100 beds last week.
The RCEM’s Dr Katherine Henderson said: ‘Many patients are now getting often life-changing news while stranded on a trolley in a corridor.
‘This cannot be right, and we must strive to put an end to ‘corridor care’. We are clearly in the worst state we’ve ever been in as we enter the true winter season.’
Monthly NHS figures showing the scale of the crisis will be released on Friday.
But the RCEM warns NHS reports do not reflect the true scale because A&E waiting times are measured from when a decision is made to admit a patient, rather than when they arrived.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Our hospitals are treating a record number of people, and with increasing demand we are putting a record £33.9billion extra funding into our NHS.’