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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Cumbria health chief wants apology from Health Secretary

A Cumbrian health boss has demanded a personal apology from the health secretary after receiving a warning for speaking out about the Government’s health bill.

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Prof John Ashton: Letter called him to meeting

Related: Cumbria's health boss told off for having an opinion

Professor John Ashton, the county’s public health director, received a letter last week calling him to a meeting with NHS Cumbria bosses after publicly condemning the controversial NHS reforms.

But he believes the order to send the letter came direct from the office of health secretary Andrew Lansley, who has been coming under increasing pressure as opposition to his plans mounts.

Dr Ashton said: “This is a top down thing that has happened to me but the Department of Health is now seeking to blame the primary care trust.

“I will not allow that to happen. That letter came with the sanction of Andrew Lansley. I want an apology.”

The letter warned that it was “inappropriate for individuals to raise personal concerns about the proposed Government reforms”.

But Dr Ashton believes it is entirely appropriate for him to publicly speak out against the bill, which he says in his professional opinion will mark the end of the NHS as we know it and open the floodgates to private firms.

He added: “I’m outraged, not just for me but for the other people who have dedicated their lives to the NHS who do not want to see it taken over by carpetbaggers who will asset strip it.”

Support for the Cumbrian health director has been growing since details of the letter were revealed by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham in the House of Commons on Tuesday. However both the Department of Health and NHS North of England deny having any involvement in the letter, saying it was a local matter between NHS Cumbria and Dr Ashton.

But Copeland’s Labour MP Jamie Reed blames Mr Lansley directly for trying to censor those voicing concerns on the bill.

He said: “Professor 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.

“He has repeatedly, and entirely correctly, warned of the dangers of the Government’s unwanted health bill to the NHS, as have the overwhelming majority of medical professionals in the country.

“On each occasion he has done this, no threats of disciplinary action have ever been made.

“However, it is clear to me that the Government’s widely rejected health policies have thrown the Health Secretary and Prime Minister into a tailspin and pressure is now being exerted from Whitehall to stifle any and all professional dissent,” said Mr Reed.

But Carlisle’s Conservative MP, John Stevenson, believes Dr Ashton should have voiced his concerns behind closed doors. He said: “He is a senior member of an organisation and therefore any views should be fed internally rather than in public.

However Joe Hendry, leader of the opposition Labour group on Carlisle City Council, has also spoken out in Dr Ashton’s defence. He told the News & Star: “I am deeply disturbed by the news that he appears to being disciplined for exercising free speech and free thinking.”

A spokesman from the British Medical Association (BMA), of which Dr Ashton is a member, added: “The BMA is obviously very disturbed to hear about these reports and we are checking the details behind this case, as well as offering appropriate support to our member.”

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