Boris Johnson has been confronted by an angry father at a hospital who told him his baby daughter had nearly died because the ward on which she was treated was “not safe for children” after years of austerity.
In an encounter caught on camera, Omar Salem said the care given to his seven-day-old daughter at Whipps Cross university hospital, in north-east London, was “not acceptable”. He told the prime minister: “There are not enough people on this ward, there are not enough doctors, there’s not enough nurses, it’s not well organised enough.”
He also accused the Conservative government of wrecking the NHS while using its hospitals as a backdrop for political campaigning.
As embarrassed NHS bosses looked on, Johnson claimed “there’s no press here” but he was immediately called out by Salem, who pointed out a camera filming the scene. Labour MPs said Johnson’s denial the hospital visit was a press opportunity showed he was incapable of telling the truth.
Salem confronted Johnson on the Acorn children’s ward of the hospital as the prime minister toured with hospital executives.
Salem told the PM: “My daughter nearly died yesterday. And I came here, the A&E guys were great but we then came down to this ward here and it took two hours [inaudible] and that is just not acceptable. This ward is not safe for children.
“There was one registrar covering the entirety of this ward and the neonatal unit. That is just not acceptable, is it? There are not enough people on this ward, not enough doctors, not enough nurses and it’s not well organised enough.”
Salem added: “The NHS has been destroyed … and now you come here for a press opportunity.”
Johnson said, incorrectly, “there’s no press here” in remarks recorded by a camera covering the event. Salem then gestured to the cameras, saying: “What do you mean there’s no press here – who are these people?”
Johnson said he was at the hospital to “find out” about the state of the NHS. Salem replied: “It’s a bit late, isn’t it? Years and years and years of the NHS being destroyed.”
Afterwards, a hospital doctor working on the ward, who was present at Johnson’s visit, backed up Salem’s account, telling the Guardian: “Obviously this was a totally contrived press opportunity – he was shown by far the nicest ward in the hospital.
“I am a medical doctor working at the hospital and the lack of resources, levels of underfunding and understaffing are beyond belief.”
The doctor said they were “so glad” Salem spoke up. “I wish the prime minister could have seen some of the other wards, which are nothing like what he saw today,” the doctor added. “He should come on a night shift and see how everything doesn’t function at two in the morning.”
Boris Johnson dropped into @WhippsCrossHosp for a press opportunity - so I gave him a piece of my mind about how he is running the NHS based on the experience with my 7 day old daughter, who was neglected for hours last night. More here: https://t.co/DsBDvnhC51 https://t.co/vKPs3yzNHx— Omar Salem (@OmarSalem) September 18, 2019
Salem, who is a Labour activist and came under fire from some on social media after video of the incident emerged, later tweeted: “Boris Johnson had the temerity to come to Whipps Cross hospital for a press opportunity on the children’s ward that my seven-day-old daughter is on, having been admitted to A&E yesterday gravely ill. The A&E team were great but she then went for hours on the ward without seeing a doctor.”
He added: “I gave him a piece of my mind about how he is running the NHS based on the experience with my daughter, so that patients get the care they deserve, there is adequate staffing with good working conditions and worried fathers like me can have some peace of mind.”
Salem said his role as a Labour activist should not be used to discount his complaints about his daughter’s treatment.
The Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, who was in the hospital at the time of the incident, echoed Salem’s concerns. She said the local NHS was in “tatters”, thanks to Johnson’s government.
Jonathan Ashworth, the Labour health spokesman, said the encounter showed Johnson “simply can’t be honest with people”.
Alan Gurney, the chief executive of Whipps Cross hospital, who stood beside Johnson as he was being confronted, blamed the temporary lack of care for Salem’s daughter on an unexpected emergency.
He said: “We are constantly reviewing staffing levels on our wards to ensure our patients are safe at all times, but occasionally – as in fact happened on this ward last night – an unexpected emergency in one part of the hospital can cause a temporary pressure elsewhere.”
A spokesman for the prime minister said Johnson was visiting public services to see for himself the reality of the situation.
The spokesman said Salem was understandably “very distressed” and the prime minister was “not going to hide away from those circumstances when he goes on these visits, and so obviously is keen to talk to people and empathise and see what he can do to help”.
“It’s also a reminder of why exactly he is so keen to make the NHS a priority and make sure it’s getting the funding that it requires,” the spokesman added.
Downing Street said the prime minister had spent the past six weeks visiting hospitals “to hear directly from NHS staff and patients – and this is exactly why he is so committed to making sure investment reaches frontline services”.
The incident is latest in a series of awkward encounters for Johnson – including being heckled by members of the public - as he tours the UK in anticipation of a likely election.