Theresa May has told Donald Trump she is “proud” of the NHS after the US President triggered yet another diplomatic spat by claiming the UK’s healthcare system “is going broke and not working”.
Mr Trump criticised the NHS on Monday as he targeted his Democrat opponents for pushing for a British-style universal healthcare system in America.
Shortly after former UKIP leader Nigel Farage spoke about the NHS on Mr Trump’s favoured Fox & Friends TV show, the US President tweeted: “The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working.
“Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!”
Minutes later, Mr Trump thanked Fox & Friends for “exposing the truth”.
The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2018
But the US President’s verdict on the NHS brought a rebuke from both Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Downing Street.
Mr Trump’s remarks came after demonstrations on Saturday near Downing Street, which saw protesters demanding more money for the NHS.
In reference to the march and in reply to Mr Trump’s tweet, Mr Hunt wrote: “I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover.
“NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”
I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover. NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance https://t.co/YJsKBAHsw7
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) February 5, 2018
Number 10 supported Mr Hunt’s retort to the US President, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying he “speaks for the Government on these matters”.
“The Prime Minister is proud of having an NHS that is free at the point of delivery,” he added.
“NHS funding is at a record high and was prioritised in the budget with an extra £2.8 billion.
“In the recent Commonwealth Fund international survey, the NHS was rated the best in the world for a second time.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also branded Mr Trump “wrong”, posting on Twitter: “People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it. Healthcare is a human right.”
Speaking as his party released a report into healthcare reform in the UK, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the NHS was not “broken” but “under enormous pressure”.
He told Sky News: “If he wants to understand how the system works in Britain and wants some solutions he should come and read our report.
Mr Trump “obviously doesn’t understand” the NHS, Sir Vince added.
Appearing before a committee of MPs, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said Mr Trump had “got the wrong end of the stick” with his tweets.
Mr Stevens invited the US President to meet with NHS staff in order to hear about their work and gain an “understanding that healthcare for everybody delivered at half the cost of the US healthcare system is something that people in this country are deeply and rightly committed to”,
Mr Farage used his Fox & Friends appearance to blame NHS pressures on a “population crisis” caused by immigration.
“Another big problem we’ve got is the National Health Service has kind of moved into becoming the ‘international health service’ and we’re providing a lot of healthcare for people coming into Britain from all over the world,” added Mr Farage, who has been among the UK’s strongest supporters of the US President.
Mr Trump and Mrs May have previously clashed over the US President’s promotion of far-right group Britain First on Twitter.
The dispute cast fresh doubt on a planned visit to Britain by Mr Trump, although last month – after the two leaders met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – it was revealed the US President is expected to make a trip to the UK in the second half of this year.
:: Analysis from Sky News Health Correspondent Paul Kelso
Donald Trump’s tweet manages to conflate bitter debates about healthcare on both sides of the Atlantic.
As far as it is possible to second guess the presidential mind, he appears to have cited Saturday’s march in support of the NHS to support his argument against universal healthcare in the US, colloquially known as Obamacare.
Mr Trump made repealing Obamacare his first priority on taking office but delivering on that promise has proved far harder, with a lack of support from Republicans impeding his plans.
The NHS is considered the arch example of what Americans described pejoratively as “socialised healthcare”, offering universal free healthcare in contrast to the privatised, uneven and hugely expensive American model.
The President appears to believe the London march was motivated by opposition to the NHS model, saying thousands marched “because their U [Universal] system is going broke”.
In fact, it was organised and backed by groups including the Labour Party calling for more funding, not less, with many NHS staff among the thousands who attended.
The tweet was condemned on all sides and thrown together the strangest of political bedfellows.
While Labour’s initial response said “even Trump knows you can’t trust the Tories”, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – object of much of the anger on Saturday – sided with the marchers against the US President.