John­son un­der fire in NHS row days be­fore polls open

●PM ac­cused of lack of em­pa­thy over young boy left to sleep on hos­pi­tal floor

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS West­min­ster Cor­re­spon­dent

The Con­ser­va­tives’ dis­ci­plined elec­tion cam­paign de­scended into farce yes­ter­day, trig­gered when the Prime Min­is­ter pock­eted a jour­nal­ist’s phone rather than look at a pho­to­graph of a child sleep­ing on a hos­pi­tal floor.

Cap­tured on cam­era in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, the awk­ward mo­ment sparked a dash to a hos­pi­tal in Leeds by the Health Sec­re­tary to is­sue an apol­ogy – be­fore false reports that a Tory aide had been punched by Labour pro­test­ers.

The Prime Min­is­ter was ac­cused of a “shock­ing lack of em­pa­thy” as the in­ci­dent risked dis­tract­ing from the To­ries’ core mes­sage on Brexit and turn­ing at­ten­tion on to the NHS, with just three days un­til polls open.

Boris John­son was asked by a re­porter from ITV to look at a pic­ture of four year-old Jack Wil­li­ment-barr sleep­ing on a pile of coats while wait­ing for a bed at Leeds Gen­eral In­fir­mary with sus­pected pneu­mo­nia.

Jack was even­tu­ally moved to a ward, where he waited for five hours on a trol­ley be­fore a bed was found at 3am.

Pre­sented with the pic­ture, orig­i­nally pub­lished by the York­shire

Evening Post, Mr John­son ini­tially re­fused to look at the in­ter­viewer’s mo­bile phone.

In the ITV footage, the Prime Min­is­ter avoids look­ing at the phone and says: “I’ll study it later.” Re­porter Joe Pike re­sponds: “You’ve re­fused to look at the photo, you’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, Prime Min­is­ter. His mother says the NHS is in cri­sis. What’s your re­sponse to that?”

Mr John­son then re­moves the phone from his pocket to look at it, and says: “It’s a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble photo, and I apol­o­gise, ob­vi­ously, to the fam­ily and all of those who have ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ences in the NHS.

“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.”

The Prime Min­is­ter adds: “I’m sorry to have taken your phone. There you go.”

At a Labour rally in Bris­tol, Jeremy Cor­byn de­scribed Jack’s treat­ment as a “dis­grace”.

“He’s had nine years to prop­erly fund the NHS,” the Labour leader said. “A child be­ing treated on the floor is a dis­grace to our so­ci­ety.”

Shadow health sec­re­tary Jonathan Ash­worth crit­i­cised the PM’S ac­tions, and said: “Re­fus­ing to even look at an im­age of a child suf­fer­ing be­cause of Con­ser­va­tive cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris John­son. It’s clear he could not care less.”

Lib­eral Democrat leader Jo Swin­son tweeted: “He won’t look at the photo be­cause he sim­ply does not care. He doesn’t care about Jack. He doesn’t care about any­one other than him­self. If he gets a ma­jor­ity on Thurs­day, he’ll spend five years not car­ing about you ei­ther.”

Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock was dis­patched to the Leeds Gen­eral In­fir­mary to meet staff and spoke with Jack’s mother by tele­phone to apol­o­gise.

“It’s not good enough, and I’ve apol­o­gised,” he told a re­porter at the hos­pi­tal.

“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.”

He said he had made the un­sched­uled visit be­cause he wanted to get “re­as­sur­ance” from the trust that “they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing they can”.

But it was over­shad­owed when Con­ser­va­tive sources briefed that one of Mr Han­cock’s ad­vis­ers was punched by one of the hand­ful of pro­test­ers who gath­ered out­side the hos­pi­tal and shouted at the Health Sec­re­tary as he left.

The claim was re­ported on so­cial me­dia by a num­ber of se­nior jour­nal­ists. Footage later showed there was no phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion, and West York­shire Po­lice said it was “un­aware” of any as­sault.

Labourac­cusedthe­con­ser­va­tives of “bare-faced ly­ing” over the in­ci­dent.

“It is shock­ing that 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 once again they have re­sorted to bare-faced ly­ing,” a Labour spokes­woman said.

“This is a new low and the Con­ser­va­tive Party has se­ri­ous ques­tions to an­swer.”

Jack was di­ag­nosed with flu and ton­sil­li­tis and al­lowed to go home. Last night his mother said she doesn’t want her son to be used as a “po­lit­i­cal foot­ball” be­cause it was “caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant dis­tress” to the fam­ily.

In a for­mal com­plaint to press reg­u­la­tor IPSO, she asked for any fur­ther pub­li­ca­tion of his pic­ture or de­tails to be stopped.

“It is shock­ing that the To­ries are so des­per­ate that once again they have re­sorted to barefaced ly­ing”


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