'There's more to do, but the plan is working'
Prime minister Rishi Sunak has conceded there is still ‘more work to do’ on delivering vital dentistry services and shorter waiting lists for people in Devon.
Speaking during a whistle-stop tour of the county today, the prime minister said he ‘cared passionately’ about the NHS and was actively working on the dentistry crisis which has seen the number of practices seeing NHS patients dip to critical levels.
He said the government was tackling the problem with more investment, and went on: “Everyone who needs to see an NHS dentist should find that that is easier.”
But on the health service as a whole he added; “Unfortunately we are still dealing with the impact of covid on the NHS, and the backlog that has created, but we are making progress.
“The performance of accident and emergency is better this winter.
“On waiting lists we are not making as much progress as we would like, but waits for the longest waiters have been virtually eliminated. We can get this thing done.”
He said spending on new health facilities would make it easier for people to get the services they needed.
“I know there’s more work to do,” he added. “But the plan we put in place is working, and if we stick to it, people will be able to have exactly what they need.”
The prime minister was speaking to the regional press at M-Subs in Plymouth, a maker of specialist submarines for military and commercial buyers.
He was quizzed about funding for local councils and the regeneration of fading town centres, and pointed out that the government had just announced £600million in funding for cash-strapped councils, some of it ring-fenced to provide services in rural areas such as Devon.
“It will mean councils across the South West have about 7.5 per cent more money to invest in local services this year than they had last year,” he said.
“Councils are working very hard to deliver for their communities, and that’s why we have supported them with this funding.”
Town centres, he said, had changed beyond recognition in recent years.
“They are the beating hearts of our communities,” he said. “But this is a challenge, as people’s habits change. We all shop more online now, and we have got to evolve how we think about our high streets.
“We are directly investing in high streets, and multiple places across the south west have benefitted from that, including Plymouth and Torquay. It is for local people to say how best to invest this money in regenerating their town centres.”
He said the government would cut business rates to help local shops and pubs and stressed: “We need to make it easier for our high streets to adapt and evolve.”
Mr Sunak visited Cornwall yesterday, and had a packed programme of engagements across Devon today. He started the day with a run on Plymouth Hoe with Plymouth Moor View MP Johnny Mercer, followed by a round of local media interviews.
He signed off: “We want people in the South West to know the government is on their side, that we’ve got a plan and that plan is working.
“If we stick with the plan I am confident we can see a brighter future for people in the South West.”