Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Burnham accuses Lansley of 'bullying' over NHS reforms

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NHS staff who oppose the government's plans for the health service are being "bullied into silence" every time they speak out, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has claimed.

Speaking during health questions on 21 February 2012, Mr Burnham quoted a letter received by an NHS staff member who had voiced concerns against the government's flagship Health and Social Care bill.

The letter, which the shadow health secretary described as "sinister", summoned the employee to a meeting with their NHS Trust chief executive because it was "inappropriate" for them to have raised personal objections to the bill.

Mr Burnham said the letter was evidence that the government was implementing a "top-down bullying policy" against doctors and nurses who opposed the the plans publicly.

But Mr Lansley accused his opposite number of "resorting to abuse", adding that he would have investigated the letter had he been shown it in advance.

Ministers faced pressure from several MPs about the Health and Social Care Bill throughout the hour-long question session.

Earlier, Liberal Democrat Andrew George called on the government to drop the bill altogether in the face of "massive opposition".

"Any rational process would have resulted in the dignified withdrawal of this bill long ago... is there anything that would persuade the secretary of state to change his mind on this question?"

Health Minister Simon Burns replied: "The straightforward answer to the question is no, because everyone accepts... (the NHS) has got to keep up and meet its challenges."

Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner gave a passionate defence of the NHS, describing the "wonderful" care he had received over the last 12 years, including cancer treatment, a heart bypass and a hip replacement.

The government should drop the "dreadful" bill, which was a "savage attack" on the health service, the Bolsover MP said.

But the health secretary said Mr Skinner had "no idea" about what was in the legislation.

"It is about giving patients information and choice. It is about empowering doctors and nurses and health professionals and it is about strengthening the ability of the NHS to improve care in future," Mr Lansley told MPs.

"There is no privatisation, no charging, no break-up of the NHS; it only is supporting the NHS," he concluded.

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