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Parliament shuns debate on Jeremy Hunt’s removal as health secretary

Parliament has decided against debating a vote of no confidence in health secretary Jeremy Hunt, despite a petition attracting 220,000 signatures.

A debate will be held on Monday 14 September, but crucially it will not be held in the main chamber of the House of Commons, but in the significantly more low-key Westminster Hall venue, and the debate will focus on ‘the e-petition relating to contracts and conditions in the NHS’.

Despite this, GP campaigners said GPs need to be lobbying MPs ‘like mad’ to attend the debate.

The petition was headlined ‘To debate a vote of no confidence in health secretary the Right Hon Jeremy Hunt’, adding that ‘Jeremy Hunt has alienated the entire workforce of the NHS by threatening to impose a harsh contract and conditions on first consultants and soon the rest of the NHS staff’.

The Commons Petitions Committee said it had reviewed the petition, as well as a similarly worded call on that received more than 100,000 signatures.

However, the debate is listed on the Parliament website as ‘Contracts and conditions in the NHS’, and will take part in Westminster Hall.

It follows the Government’s response, published on the petition page, that focused on the merits of a seven-day NHS and not on Mr Hunt.

Reacting to news of the debate being scheduled, Dr Dan Furmedge, the consultant behind the petition, said on Twitter: ‘[T]hey need to make sure they debate Hunt and not just “conditions on the NHS”.’

But Hull GP Dr Zoe Norris, media lead for GP pressure group GP Survival, told Pulse: ‘A Government-dominated petitions committee could never pass a motion for debate to undermine the sitting health secretary. But, the fact they have changed the wording to reflect general concerns about contracts and conditions, means Conservative MPs in particular can now join in the debate without fear of being chastised by the party whip.

‘Personally I think that is encouraging, and we should be using this opportunity to lobby MPs like mad to go there and look for ways to safeguard the future of general practice.’ 

She added that while GPs are ‘furious over the slurs that Hunt has made against the medical profession’ and particularly GPs, removing the face of the policies would only serve to ‘lower the blood pressure’ of some GPs while these same policies continue.

The petitions were first launched in the wake of a speech where the health secretary said he would impose weekend working in the consultant contract to end high payments to fill shifts.

It also followed closely Mr Hunt’s announcement of the ‘new deal’ for general practice, which would see GPs accept seven-day working in return for support for struggling practices but was later denounced by the BMA as threatening the existence of the profession.

Supporters of the petitions included Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham – a frontrunner in his party’s leadership contest due to conclude this Saturday – who had said he would personally request for the debate to take place.