Stop silencing NHS staff from telling the truth about no deal impact, says Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth has called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to stop silencing NHS staff, following a report that indicates NHS bosses have been told to follow the government’s line on Brexit.

“It’s staggering that ministers are attempting to silence NHS staff from telling the truth about the disastrous consequences for patients’ health of a no-deal Brexit,” Ashworth said.

A Department of Health and Social Care memo obtained by Health Service Journal reveals that all NHS arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) will receive Downing Street’s “top lines from the core EU exit script” in weekly emails. The memo instructs NHS bosses to make sure that all communications are “aligned to this script.”

In February, all ALBs, including NHS England, were informed that any communications related to Brexit – tweets, emails, phone calls and press releases – would be subject to Department of Health approval. The clearance process was implemented following the controversy stirred by the cancellation of blood donations scheduled for March over fears of Brexit traffic gridlock in Kent.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are committed to preparing the entire health and care system for Brexit on 31 October and that includes ensuring our ALBs have the latest and most accurate information from central government when communicating with the public.

“Government departments routinely clear external messaging of their ALBs and this is part of well-established assurance processes.”

As Health Secretary, Hancock has refused to rule out deaths resulting from medical shortages in a no deal scenario.  In an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last November, Hancock admitted: “No deal is not pretty. It’s very difficult for the economy and for lots of other areas like healthcare.”

The Shadow Health Secretary called on Hancock to immediately lift any restrictions on NHS communications. “Boris Johnson is either again trying to mislead patients or is running scared of the implications of his own policy. Matt Hancock should lift this gagging order now,” Ashworth said.

James Kelly is editing LabourList while Sienna Rodgers is away.

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