A patients’ charity has accused parliamentary authorities of censorship following the rejection of a petition highlighting the reduced level of NHS care for non-Covid patients during the pandemic.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) – a widely respected charity for patient safety and justice – submitted the petition two months ago and said lives have been put at risk by NHS England’s decision to restrict most normal care in order to “protect” hospitals from an anticipated surge of coronavirus patients.
However, parliament’s petition team rejected the petition and in its reply to AvMA said it is “because the UK government aren’t responsible for the issue you raise. This is an operational matter for the NHS.”
Reopening NHS services is ‘not a matter for ministers to decide on’
The parliament team said the issue of reopening NHS services now that the pandemic and pressure on hospitals has reduced is not a matter for ministers to decide on. The Guardian states the petition team’s verdict comes “despite the fact that the Department of Health and Social Care funds the NHS in England, sets its priorities, and is accountable to parliament for its performance”, clearly suggesting the issue is a matter for ministers.
The Liberal Democrats have warned the petition’s rejection could set “a dangerous precedent” which would enable ministers to evade responsibility by shifting accountability to bodies within their departments.
‘Rejecting petition risks dangerous precedent’ – Wilson
Munira Wilson, the party’s spokesperson for health, wellbeing and social care said the petition is about holding the government to account and added they “cannot and must not be allowed to abdicate responsibility. Denying such a petition risks setting a dangerous precedent.”
The Lib Dems intervention is a timely reminder given today’s (August 25) resignation of the head of Ofqual following the A levels results fiasco. It is an interesting aside to note that of the 22 most recent petitions rejected by the parliamentary committee considering them, nine called for the resignation/sacking of education secretary Gavin Williamson with one petition to “strip him of his CBE”.
AvMA’s chief executive Peter Walsh said: “It is clearly ludicrous for the parliamentary authorities to reject our petition on the basis that government has no responsibility for how the NHS responds to the pandemic and the thousands of lives being lost due to delays in reopening services.”
He told the Guardian: “The holding back and eventual rejection of our petition for publication can be seen as censorship. The reason given is simply not credible. Ministers clearly do have responsibility for the handling of the pandemic and for healthcare.”
NHS waiting list could be 10 million by Christmas
Shadow health minister Justin Madders tweeted his response to the petition’s rejection: “This is unbelievable! The running of the NHS is apparently not a matter for debate in Parliament!“
He told the Guardian that with predictions of an NHS “waiting list of 10 million by Christmas, it is absolutely vital that the government set out clearly their plans of how to tackle this backlog and allow parliament an opportunity to debate those plans.”
Madders said the government has failed to meet its targets on operations “for years” and that the wating list issue is well and widely known, adding: “It’s no wonder they don’t want their appalling record talked about, but they owe it to those patients who have been waiting too long already, as well as the many more who will be joining the list in the coming months, to explain what steps they are going to take to tackle this backlog.”
Spare capacity and Nightingale hospitals – but record NHS waiting lists
In June, AvMA declared that “urgent action [is] required to prevent avoidable harm and deaths amongst non Covid-19 patients” and calling for the opening up of services while NHS hospitals were “running at 60% of capacity or less, with Nightingale hospitals standing empty and private sector capacity unused.”
Earlier this month NHS England’s waiting list figures hit record numbers with 1.8 million patients waiting more than 18 weeks for routine hospital treatment. The same figures showed admissions in June 2020 were 200,000 fewer than for the same month in 2019 and a huge cut in cancer treatments.
Professor Neil Mortenson, the president of the Royal College of Surgeon (RCS) called then (August 13) for “a massive national strategy to take gold of this” adding: “Just trying to get things going again is not going to have much of an effect, I’m afraid.”