LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Britain’s National Health Service recorded its worst ever performance in treating patients in emergency wards in October, a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has claimed that only the Conservatives can safeguard the cherished institution.
The state-run NHS has provided free at the point of use healthcare for more than 70 years, making it a highly emotive issue during elections, when voters rate it as the second most important subject after Brexit.
NHS England said on Thursday the percentage of patients seen within four hours in all accident and emergency departments stood at 83.6% in October, dropping sharply from the 85.2% recorded the month before and the 89.1% recorded a year ago.
The service said this was the worst performance since records began in 2004. The overall target of 95% was last met in July 2015.
The news sparked an immediate war of words between Britain’s politicians ahead of a Dec. 12 election.
Britain’s Health Minister Matt Hancock said the figures showed Britain could not afford to have a Labour government run by Jeremy Corbyn.
“We are giving the biggest cash boost ever to our NHS, but Corbyn’s chaotic policies will put that at risk,” he said in a statement. The Conservatives have been in power since 2010.
Labour’s spokesman for health, Jonathan Ashworth, said the Conservatives had “ushered in the worst NHS crisis on record”.
“Under Boris Johnson the NHS is in crisis and we’re heading for a winter of abject misery for patients,” he said.
Struggling under the pressure of record demand due to a growing and ageing population, as well as cut backs to social care services, the NHS has warned it faces a shortfall in funding despite government promises of extra money.
Corbyn’s Labour Party, which is traditionally favoured by voters to run the NHS, has said it will outspend the Conservatives if it wins the election. (Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)