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Cumbria's health boss told off for having an opinion

Cumbria's public health director has been called in front of bosses after speaking out against the Government’s health bill.

 Prof John Ashton photo
Prof John Ashton

Professor John Ashton received a letter from high up in the NHS, believed to be from the office of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, warning him that under the NHS Code of Conduct it is “inappropriate for individuals to raise personal concerns about the proposed Government reforms”.

It adds that he is required to attend a meeting with the NHS Cumbria’s chief executive, Sue Page, to explain and account for his recent actions.

The issue was raised by Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham in the House of Commons yesterday when he criticised Mr Lansley for failing to listen to concerns of doctors and nurses.

Mr Burnham accused his rival of threatening NHS staff with disciplinary action if they speak out against the reorganisation.

Dr Ashton recently signed two letters criticising Mr Lansley’s health and social care bill, which has been attracting mounting opposition nationally.

In a recent interview with the News & Star, he stressed it was his professional – not personal or political opinion – that the reforms will cause irreversible long-term damage to the health service.

He said: “It is a bill to abolish the NHS as we know it. These are the building blocks to move away from an NHS that provides equal access, equal need, free at the point of use and paid for by taxes, to an insurance-based system.”

But following these actions, Dr Ashton last week received a letter calling him to the meeting, which NHS Cumbria today stressed was not a disciplinary hearing.

In yesterday’s Commons debate, the health secretary insisted he knew nothing about the letter.

Responding to Mr Burnham’s comments, Mr Lansley said: “I do not know the letter to which the right honourable gentleman refers, and if he had shown it to me beforehand I could have investigated it.”

He added that he and Prime Minister David Cameron had been meeting with nurses, midwives and doctors.

Although Dr Ashton has not spoken publicly about the letter, the issue has attracted widespread debate on social networking site Twitter.

Those coming out in support of Cumbria’s director of public health include author and broadcaster Ben Goldacre, who said: “We should not underestimate John Ashton’s bravery in going to the press here. You need more like him. You can be certain that if only one person has spoken out, this is the tip of the iceberg. How truly appalling.”

However, an NHS Cumbria spokeswoman today insisted the meeting with Dr Ashton was not a disciplinary hearing.

She 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 organisations for which they work.

“NHS organisations 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 will today call a vote demanding the publication of the NHS risk register, which details what could go wrong if the bill is implemented.

The Government has refused to publish the document, in spite of a ruling from the information commissioner demanding it to be made public.

Have your say

welcome to an insight into Tony Blairs"a new world order" comment that he made when leaving goverment,perhaps you will now see you are all nobody's, who are told what to eat,what to drink,what to wear,and how to live,now you have completed the circle in that you say what they want or you are deemed a troublemaker,is that democracy or fascism,history says the latter.

Posted by James O on 27 February 2012 at 14:07

On Tuesday past, Conservative Central Office announced that the PM was to make a high profile visit to an NHS Hospital, to a) bolster support for his NHS reform,and b) raise issue of binge drinking. But, as I outlined in my previous post, there was an incident at the hospital. I can now reveal the details of what is alleged to have happened.

Exposed: Cameron covers up yesterday's NHS hospital altercation and censors the press.

This if proved to be true, confirms the death of democracy.

Posted by Richard on 23 February 2012 at 22:32

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