Parliamentary authorities have been accused of censorship after refusing to accept a charity’s petition highlighting non-Covid patients not receiving NHS care during the pandemic.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) submitted the petition in June. It said that NHS England’s decision in March to restrict most normal care, so that hospitals could focus on the influx of Covid patients, “has meant access even to urgent diagnostic procedures and treatment for non-covid conditions has been severely restricted, putting lives at risk”.
But parliament’s petition team, which decides which proposals are hosted online, rejected AvMA’s petition, saying that reopening NHS services now that the pandemic has subsided is not a matter for ministers. It said: “We can’t accept your petition because the UK government aren’t responsible for the issue you raise. This is an operational matter for the NHS.”
Doctors and health charities have voiced concern that the suspension of NHS services over recent months will lead to thousands of patients dying of conditions such as cancer and heart problems because they were not tested, diagnosed and treated because of the shutdown.
AvMA’s petition urged ministers to speed up the reopening of diagnostic and treatment services for patients with life-threatening conditions and vulnerable groups.
The petition team’s decision comes despite the fact that the Department of Health and Social Care funds the NHS in England and sets its priorities, and is accountable to parliament for its performance.
“It is clearly ludicrous for the parliamentary authorities to reject our petition on the basis that government has no responsibility for how the NHS responds to the pandemic and the thousands of lives being lost due to delays in reopening services,” said Peter Walsh, AvMA’s chief executive.
“The holding back and eventual rejection of our petition for publication can be seen as censorship. The reason given is simply not credible. Ministers clearly do have responsibility for the handling of the pandemic and for healthcare,” he added.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats voiced concern about the decision. The Lib Dems warned that the rejection of the petition could set “a dangerous precedent” that could allow ministers to evade responsibility for the actions of arm’s length bodies of their departments.
“It’s crystal clear that we will need major government support for the NHS as efforts are made to return to normal service as quickly as possible. The public and Parliament must be able to hold the government to account in delivering that support, to make sure the NHS has the resources it needs. This petition is about doing just that”, said Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem spokesperson for health, wellbeing and social care.
“Government cannot and must not be allowed to abdicate responsibility. Denying such a petition risks setting a dangerous precedent.”
Justin Madders, a Labour shadow health minister, said: “With some estimates predicting a waiting list of 10 million by Christmas, it is absolutely vital that the government set out clearly their plans how to tackle this backlog and allow parliament an opportunity to debate those plans.
“We all know that many people were waiting too long, often in excruciating pain before the pandemic began, and that the government has failed to meet its own targets on operations for years. It’s no wonder they don’t want their appalling record talked about, but they owe it to those patients who have been waiting too long already, as well as the many more who will be joining the list in the coming months, to explain what steps they are going to take to tackle this backlog.”
AvMA is widely respected in healthcare for its expertise in how to make healthcare safer and reduce the risk of patients coming to harm as a result of medical negligence. It was the only organisation granted core participant status in the landmark inquiry that followed the Mid Staffordshire NHS care scandal.
Source: The Guardian