Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of using ‘a parliamentary sleight of hand’ to increase his powers, despite rebuffs by two of the highest courts in the land.
Unite, the country’s largest union with 100,000 members in the health service, is urging MPs to vote on Monday (16 December) against a clause hastily inserted into the Care bill which would make it easier to close or privatise any hospital in England.
Jeremy Hunt wants these extra powers, despite the decision of the High Court, subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal, that he did not have the authority to implement cuts to the emergency and maternity units at Lewisham hospital in south east London.
Unite was highly critical of the £200,000 that Jeremy Hunt had squandered in legal bills – money that could have been better spent on frontline services, such as hip replacements.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “What Jeremy Hunt is attempting to do is to achieve by a parliamentary sleight of hand what he failed to do through the courts.
“It is clear that the health secretary is hijacking the Care bill by tacking on this clause which has no relevance to the rest of the bill.
“It shows scant respect to parliamentary traditions and this country’s judicial process built up over many centuries. Parliament should be in tune with judicial decisions, not trying to overturn them.
“We are urging to MPs to throw out the clause at the bill’s second reading on Monday, as we believe that this is a dangerous move which will put thousands of lives at risk, by removing clinical decision-making from NHS provision.
“Jeremy Hunt was inept and wasteful in his failed legal challenges – but more generally, he has failed in his remit which is to improve and retain the NHS for the benefit of the many and not just a few private healthcare companies.
“And he continues to demoralise staff as they brace themselves for the winter crisis which is already beginning to engulf A&E units across England.”
Despite massive local protests, ministers tried to fast-track the closure of Lewisham’s A&E and maternity services, in order to redirect patients and money to neighbouring hospital trusts. This was in context of the large private finance initiative (PFI) debts to pay off.
Rachael Maskell added: “The Care bill is being used to drastically reduce the rights of the public to have ‘a say’ in decisions affecting their local hospitals.
“Unite believes that it is totally wrong to use the fast track ‘failure regime’ as a tool to reconfigure hospital provision more widely.
“If services need redesigning, the law must ensure this is done with proper and extensive consultation with local people and that decisions are based on clinical needs; not on political interference and dogma.”
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.