A senior doctor faces disciplinary action after signing a letter to The Independent opposing the NHS reforms. The medical professional, has been summoned to a meeting with the chief executive of his trust to explain himself.
Evidence of heavy-handed tactics by NHS managers over criticism of the reform emerged after 23 clinicians sent a letter to this newspaper warning that the shake-up will “cause more harm than good”. One signatory has received a letter from the director of an NHS trust which reads, “It is inappropriate for individuals to raise personal concerns about the government reforms. You are therefore required to attend a meeting with the chief executive for the actions you have recently taken.”
Director of public health and county medical officer Prof John Ashton was among those who signed a letter in The Independent earlier this month. It defended the Royal College of GPs' chair, who opposed the reforms.
An NHS Cumbria spokesperson said, “NHS clinicians are always free to express their opinions as individuals and NHS Cumbria has never stood in the way of anyone expressing a personal view. Every senior manager in the health service has to nonetheless be mindful of expressing their views on political issues as individuals, and not on behalf of the NHS organizations for which they work. NHS organizations must always remain non-political. The meeting with Professor Ashton this week is not a disciplinary meeting but is to ensure that he is always mindful of these differences.”
Labour Copeland MP and shadow health minister Jamie Reed said, “Prof Ashton is a notable public servant and a superb asset for the people of Cumbria. We are fortunate that we have such a man to fight our corner.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said, “It is, it would seem, your new top-down bullying policy and it is happening right across the NHS. The truth about your mismanagement of the NHS is coming out – staff bullied into silence and professionals frozen out.” Last night, Mr Burnham said, “I fear this sort of behaviour could take place more widely. I have been told anecdotally that there is a lot of this going on.”
Health Minister Simon Burns said the letter was not from ministers or the Department of Health. He said, “I have not seen the letter but clearly PCTs should not be employing heavy-handed tactics. Instead, they should be supporting GPs as we hand power to doctors and nurses on the front line.” He said GPs around the county were making their views known, both for and against the bill.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley replied that he did not know about the letter and accused Mr. Burnham of resorting to abuse. David Cameron yesterday insisted Mr. Lansley “understands the health service better than almost anyone else in Parliament” and had his full support. He said he was confident the Government could win the arguments over the reform and show that it would improve standards of patient care.
Nick Clegg, the party leader, hopes that enough of the outstanding questions will have been settled by then to avert protests from activists about the reforms Bill. Last night Mr Clegg said the Bill had been changed “very considerably” since last year's pause, adding, “I am a Liberal Democrat and I care passionately about the NHS. If I felt that this legislation would lead to the privatization of the NHS, as the critics claim, if I felt this legislation would lead to the ruin of the NHS, of course we would drop it.”