The UK health secretary has said he is “open to requests” for patients from both Scotland and Wales to be treated on the NHS in England amid record waiting times.
Steve Barclay has invited ministers from Scotland and Wales to meet and discuss “what lessons can be learned” from the different approaches of each government to the health service.
However, he also claimed Scottish and Welsh health services have worse NHS delays than England, which both devolved administrations have robustly disputed.
The issue is likely to be a key battleground at the next general election with the Conservative government keen to argue that health services would not be better managed by Labour or the SNP.
In a press release, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there are “significant variations” in NHS waiting times between the four UK nations.
“In Wales, more than 73,000 people are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment, and at least 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, day case or inpatient appointment in Scotland,” it said.
“In England, waiting times for patients over 78 weeks have been virtually eliminated.”
In response, Scottish health minister Michael Matheson pointed to record waiting lists and ongoing strikes hitting the NHS England as examples of problems affecting the service south of the border.
“The NHS in England is about to experience its fifth round of strikes by junior doctors, with the waiting list for hospital treatment rising by over 100,000 to a record high of over 7.5 million as a result of the UK Government’s refusal to even get around the negotiating table,” he said.
“Rather than attempting to involve themselves in devolved areas, the UK Government would be well served focusing on tackling the many issues in the health service south of the border.
“In contrast, the Scottish Government has negotiated constructively and made significant commitments to our junior doctors – which is why we are the only part of the UK to have avoided strike action in our NHS this year.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Wales includes more referrals in its waiting times statistics than England does. Long waiting times are falling every month in Wales and have more than halved in the past year.
“The overall growth in waiting lists in Wales has been smaller in Wales than in England over the last 12 months – it grew by 3.6% in Wales and by 12.1% in England. Wales has also outperformed England in major emergency department performance in nine out of the last ten months.
“In Wales patients are treated according to clinical urgency.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The only advice the Tories are qualified to offer is how to wreck the NHS and cause the biggest strikes in its history.”
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told Sky News on Sunday that Barclay was “the last person anyone needs a lecture from” on how to run the NHS.
She accused the UK Government of creating a “total shambles” in the NHS and said devolved governments are restricted in what they can do by budgets determined in Westminster.