Tackling the backlog in the NHS is the biggest public services emergency, Rishi Sunak has said, as he and Liz Truss continue to vie to become the UK’s next prime minister.
More than 6.6 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment.
Mr Sunak plans to eliminate one-year waiting times by September 2024 and get overall numbers falling by next year.
Meanwhile, Ms Truss has announced plans for a “bonfire” of EU laws retained after Brexit.
She has promised to scrap or replace all such laws which she argues hinder growth by the end of 2023.
The pledges come as the two remaining contenders in the contest to be party leader and the next prime minister step up campaigning, with Conservative Party members due to start receiving ballot papers this week.
The winner will be announced on 5 September.
In a campaign speech in Grantham, the hometown of the late former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher, Mr Sunak said tackling the backlog was the biggest public service emergency.
He argues a growing number of people are using money they cannot really afford to go private.
“We need a fundamentally different approach,” he said. “We will take the best of our Covid response and apply those lessons to clearing the massive backlog in the NHS.”
Without a radically different approach, the NHS will come under unsustainable pressure and break, Mr Sunak says.
As part of a number of measures, he is promising to offer more diagnostic services – such as MRI and CT scans – in repurposed empty High Street shops.
He also wants a “vaccine-style” backlogs taskforce with the power to take action to get waiting lists down.
In his speech to the party faithful, Mr Sunak admitted he was the “underdog” in the race to become prime minister.
The former chancellor claimed there were “forces” in the Tory party who wanted the contest to be a “coronation” for his rival, Ms Truss, tipped as favourite among Conservative party voters.
He went on to criticise her plans for tax cuts, saying there was “nothing noble or good about wracking up money” on credit.
In a message packed with references to honesty and “moral courage”, he said he was the candidate telling the truth about tough choices.
He called the system broken and said no amount of undeliverable promises would change that, in another swipe at Ms Truss.
Speaking to the Times earlier, Mr Sunak said a “business-as-usual mentality isn’t going to cut it” when it comes to dealing with challenges that are “staring us in the face”, including the economy, migration as well as the NHS.
“Having been inside government I think the system just isn’t working as well as it should. And the challenges that I’m talking about, they’re not abstract, they’re not things that are coming long down the track,” he said.
“From day one of being in office I’m going to put us on a crisis footing.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has outlined her own bold pitch to be leader, describing herself as an “insurgent” who wants change, in an interview the Daily Telegraph.
She said after two decades of low growth and now the economic shock from the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the UK was facing a “pivotal moment”.
“Do we continue with business as usual?” she said.
“I want to do things differently and be bold so that we become a high-growth, high-productivity powerhouse.”
Ms Truss, who was among the ministers who did not resign from Boris Johnson’s government earlier this month, has announced a plan to review thousands of laws inherited from the EU after Brexit.
Although she campaigned to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum – unlike Leave-voting Mr Sunak – she has since embraced Brexit and is now seeking to argue she is best placed to ensure it delivers economic benefits.
The foreign secretary has promised to scrap or replace by the end of 2023 EU laws deemed to hold back the economy, with her campaign saying she “believes that a red tape bonfire will encourage business investment and boost growth”.
Last month. Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg pledged to repeal EU-derived laws by June 2026. However, critics called the plan unrealistic, with government estimates suggesting there are 2,400 such pieces of legislation.
Ms Truss has specifically said she would scrap the EU’s Solvency II regulation, which sets rules on how pension savings can be invested and is already subject to a government review.
Mr Sunak, who quit as part of the cabinet mutiny against Boris Johnson, has clashed repeatedly with Ms Truss over economic policy during the campaign so far.
She is pledging around £30bn in immediate tax cuts, arguing they will boost growth, while Mr Sunak has said immediate cuts could fuel already-soaring inflation.
Mr Sunak topped the MPs’ ballots to qualify for the final run-off with Ms Truss, but polls currently suggest the foreign secretary is the favoured candidate of party members, who decide the leader.
It is thought a significant chunk of the 160,000 or so Tory members will vote in the coming weeks.
Hustings will take place throughout July and August, and the two candidates will square off in a live BBC TV debate on Monday, followed by another hosted by The Sun and TalkTV on Tuesday.