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 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”