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‘Bullying’ claims after PCT warns senior doctor over health bill opposition

The Government has been accused of ‘bullying' healthcare professionals who speak out against the NHS reforms after a senior doctor who signed a letter criticising the health bill was threatened with disciplinary action.

Professor John Ashton, county medical officer for Cumbria, was summoned to a meeting by PCT bosses after he and 22 other signatories penned a letter to a national newspaper criticising the bill.

NHS Cumbria claimed Professor Ashton breached the NHS code of conduct by voicing his concerns over the plans.

The news was seized upon by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who accused the Government of ‘top-down bullying' and asked Mr Lansley in the Commons if it was now his policy ‘to threaten NHS staff with disciplinary action if they speak out about his reorganisation'. 

The health secretary told Mr Burnham he was not aware of the case and as such would not comment.

An NHS Cumbria spokesperson said: ‘NHS clinicians are always free to express their opinions as individuals and NHS Cumbria has never stood in the way of anyone expressing a personal view.'

‘Every senior manager in the health service has to nonetheless be mindful of expressing their views on political issues as individuals, and not on behalf of the NHS organisations for which they work. NHS organisations must always remain non-political.'

‘NHS Cumbria cannot comment on matters concerning individual members of staff other than to confirm that the meeting with Professor Ashton is not a disciplinary meeting but is to ensure that he is always mindful of these differences.'