Ministers Accused Of Hypocrisy Over Cutbacks

Three senior Cabinet ministers were accused of “hypocrisy” today after it emerged that they have campaigned against NHS cuts in their own constituencies.

{mosimage}Hazel Blears, the Labour chairman, John Reid, the Home Secretary, and Jacqui Smith, Labour’s chief whip, came under fire after critics said they were opposing cutbacks which were being driven by Government policies.

The row erupted after it emerged that Miss Blears had joined campaigners on a picket line outside Hope Hospital in Salford just before Christmas in a protest about plans to close a baby unit. She has also admitted that she had privately lobbied Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, about the plans.

Mr Reid, meanwhile, had backed a campaign to halt the closure of the accident and emergency unit at Monklands Hospital in his constituency.

Ms Smith has opposed moves to cut maternity services in Redditch.

Geoff Martin, of the Health Emergency campaign group, said that leaked memos had revealed earlier this year that Miss Blears had been at a Whitehall meeting with Ms Hewitt at which NHS cuts were discussed.

“She was there when the cutbacks were being decided so it’s rank hypocrisy for her now to say ‘not in my backyard’. If the Government’s policy is wrong in Salford, it’s wrong everywhere else in the country,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll see more ministers joining her in the months ahead as the numbers of closures and cuts increases. The whole thing stinks.”

The Daily Telegraph revealed earlier this year that 43 maternity units and 29 accident and emergency units are facing closure are significant cuts in services.

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said Miss Blears actions underlined how the Government had misjudged the public mood. “Tony Blair and Patricia Hewitt are out of step with the rest of the country and their fellow Cabinet ministers about reconfiguration of maternity units,” he said.

“Jacqui Smith has campaigned about maternity closures in Redditch and now Hazel Blears is doing the same in Salford. The Government is in disagreement over maternity closures because Patricia Hewitt is yet to provide evidence to show why there should any closures at all.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, added: “It has come to something when even Government ministers find themselves protesting against their own policies. This is astonishing behaviour from Hazel Blears – you cannot back a policy on the national stage and then campaign against it in your own constituency.”

However, Miss Blears rejected the accusations of hypocrisy. “I am representing the views of the people who elected me,” she said. “My first and foremost job is to represent Salford and the people of the area and I will continue to make the case that Salford needs its maternity services.”