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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Health boss in call for apology

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

Prof 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 last week. 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.

Prof Ashton – who met with health bosses on Friday to discuss his comments – said he would not be able to live with himself had he kept quiet.

“For me, I can’t live with myself if I’m not true to myself. To speak out on a matter of public concern like this is so important to me,” he said.

“I was given a CBE in 1996 for services to the NHS. I did not expect the postman to turn up with a letter threatening me with disciplinary action for speaking out in its defence.”

Dr Ashton adds that his concerns are based solely on professional opinion. “This is not based on my personal views or any ideology but from reading academic literature analysing the bill.

“A huge amount of work has gone on, involving a group 600 people on the net, working together to understand the real implications of the bill.

“To achieve the things that Andrew Lansley says he wants to achieve, you can do it without the bill. We are already doing it here in Cumbria. It’s about good local leadership, not legislation. What the bill proposes is to open doors to large-scale private companies.”

Following the revelations about the letter, Dr Ashton has had widespread national support for speaking out.

He said that as public health director, he has the freedom, and duty, to speak out about matters detrimental to the public.

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