The Independent newspaper has printed revelations that staff in the Department of Health deliberately strengthened a controversial letter signed by the top independent medics in the NHS.
This particular letter raised concerns about a strike by junior doctors, and emails unveiled by the publication have revealed some rather disturbing correspondence.
Emails between senior Department of Health staff and Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the Medical Director of the non-partisan body NHS England, indicated that the government and the Department of Health attempted to raise public concerns over the strike.
In particular, the letter, that was ultimately approved by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, questioned whether striking junior doctors could cause problems in the event of a Paris-style terror attack.
Evidently, the intention was to scare the general public, rather than providing a reasonable Position on the strike.
The Liberal Democrat health spokesman and former social care minister, Norman Lamb, has demanded an independent inquiry into the revelations.
Lamb is particularly concerned that there has been political interference in what should be an independent matter.
The leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, commented: “Tory ministers said when they set up NHS England it would be free of interference. These words have been shown to be meaningless. The Tories are guilty of blatant and utter hypocrisy over this sorry saga.”
At the time of the latter being published, a huge amount of controversy was generated.
In particular, several thousand medics wrote to Keogh indicating their displeasure about the content and tone of the latter.
There were accusations that Keogh had used the public sphere relating to a terror attack in order to gain political advantage.
They said any insinuation that striking doctors would not come back to work in the event of an attack was “not in keeping with the inherent duty that junior doctors have to serve the public”.
This was considered controversial enough in itself, but with The Independent having divulged the process via which this letter was produced, there has been an understandable uproar regarding the ethics of the situation.
The aforementioned Lamb continued:
“In cases like this it is crucial to establish who had involvement in something that risks further damaging the Government’s relationship with junior doctors. This cannot be done by the Department and I am calling for Sir Jeremy Heywood to set up a suitable inquiry that will command respect to look into this.”
A Department of Health spokesman defended the letter in question and the behaviour of those involved. “Industrial action of the kind planned by the BMA creates a major safety risk for patients so it was absolutely right that ministers insisted on Sir Bruce Keogh giving his independent view of the NHS’s capacity to respond in the event of a major terrorist incident.”
But, realistically, it is difficult to see this as being anything other than blatant political manipulation.