Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham Max Wilkinson says questions must be answered after it emerged that two Gloucestershire NHS bosses paid to attend a Conservative party fundraising event.
In a letter to Max, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief exec Deborah Lee and chair Peter Lachecki confirmed that they paid £50-a-head to attend a Tory party dinner with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in November.
Max says there are clear questions to answer for the Conservatives:
The given reason for the need to attend the fundraiser was that time was needed to meet the Health Secretary. Should this time with the Health Secretary not have been afforded the Trust’s senior managers without the need for attendance at a party political event?
The county council has a statutory duty to scrutinise local health services. How many Conservative county councillors were present at the dinner?
Given that two key local health trust leaders have made a donation to their party, how can local Conservative councillors effectively, and without prejudice, scrutinise local health trust proposals?
The Conservative MP for Cheltenham has for some time been calling for urgent care facilities to be introduced at Cheltenham hospital – a downgrade on the current A&E facility. This call aligns with the Trust’s future plans. Is this an agreed line between the Trust and local Conservatives to ease the path to a further downgrade?
Max said: “My concern is for local health services, the independence of those leading it and the ability of politicians to hold decision makers to account.
“The activities of public servants must be, and must appear to be, beyond question and in this case it appears there are questions to answer on that count.
“We all know that the Conservative government is starving the health service of the funding it needs and the resulting trend towards downgrades at the local level is clear – downgrades being overseen by local health Trust leaders whose hands are tied by national funding decisions.
“The fact that the Tories are charging those health Trust bosses to attend their events and to get access to the Health Secretary is very odd – why aren’t the Trust’s bosses able to make their case in the normal run of events?
“We can only hope the resulting discussion focused on how the Tories will help NHS services meet the funding challenge to ensure a better deal for patients, as well as hard-pressed doctors and nurses.
“This has compromised the Trust and the Conservatives at a time when the NHS needs certainty more than ever.”