Boris Johnson has said he is “glad” the father of a sick child confronted him during a hospital visit, declaring: “This isn’t an embarrassment, this is part of my job”.
Omar Salem, a Labour activist, remonstrated with the prime minister during a visit to Whipps Cross University Hospital in northeast London.
In a conversation lasting around two minutes, Mr Salem claimed there were not enough doctors or nurses, criticised the state of the NHS as “not acceptable” and accused the PM of visiting the hospital for a “press opportunity”.
He told Mr Johnson: “There are not enough people on this ward, there are not enough doctors, there’s not enough nurses, it’s not well organised enough.
“The NHS has been destroyed… and now you come here for a press opportunity.”
In response, the prime minister said: “There’s no press here.”
However, Mr Salem was quick to point to cameras filming the altercation, saying: “What do you mean there’s no press here, who are these people?”
Mr Johnson explained he was “here to find out” about the situation with the NHS, but Mr Salem said: “It’s a bit late isn’t it? Years and years and years of the NHS being destroyed.”
Following the confrontation, Mr Salem wrote on Twitter that he gave the prime minister “a piece of my mind about how he is running the NHS”.
He said that his daughter, who is seven days old, was “neglected for hours” in the children’s ward on Tuesday night.
Addressing the incident on his own Twitter page later, Mr Johnson said: “I’ve been PM for 57 days, part of my job is to talk to people on the ground and listen to what they tell me about the big problems. It doesn’t matter if they agree with me.
“I’m glad this gentleman told me his problems. This isn’t an embarrassment this is part of my job.”
The PM’s spokesman said Mr Johnson was visiting the hospital to see for himself the reality of challenges that face the NHS.
The spokesman said Mr Salem was understandably “very distressed” and that Mr Johnson 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.
Mr Johnson has spent the past six weeks visiting hospitals in attempts to “hear directly from NHS staff and patients”, according to his spokesman.
“This is exactly why he is so committed to making sure investment reaches frontline services, so that doctors and nurses have the resources they need and patients receive consistently world-leading care,” he said.
The government has “invested an additional £1.8m into frontline services and are upgrading 20 hospitals across the country”, the spokesman added.
Mr Johnson announced that £850m of the one-off payment would go to repairing 20 hospitals in August. His pledge is set to add to Theresa May’s £33.9bn annual increase for the health service by 2023/24.
But experts said the sum is just a fraction of what is required to fix ailing NHS buildings across the UK and have questioned how “new” the money is.
The prime minister has received continued criticism for his claim that leaving the EU would allow the UK to take back control of £350m a week, with some boosting the NHS.
The claim, made during the EU referendum campaign, was written on the side of a bus.