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Chris Whitty Insists He Is Not "Treading On Toes" After Criticism From Tory MPs

Chris Whitty has dismissed criticism from Tory MPs

3 min read

England's Chief Medical Officer told MPs he is not "treading on toes" after urging the public to scale-back on socialising in response to surging Covid cases.

Tory MP Joy Morrissey, who is a parliamentary aide to Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, had claimed Professor Whitty should "defer" to Boris Johnson over Covid advice.

As Chief Medical Officer, Whitty is responsible for advising government on the public health risks posed by Covid. Johnson is responsible for devising policy informed by expertise provided by Whitty, who does not have any say in how the government acts on his advice.  

In a now deleted tweet, Morrissey wrote: "Perhaps the unelected Covid public health spokesperson should defer to what our ELECTED Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister have decided.

"I know it’s difficult to remember but that’s how democracy works. This is not a public health socialist state."

In a subsequent tweet, she added she was concerned that some public health messages "exceed or contradict decisions made by our elected representatives."

A number of other Conservative MPs, including Steve Brine and Steve Baker, have also criticised the senior medic after he urged the public to "prioritise" their socialising ahead of Christmas.

Brine said Whitty had changed the government's strategy "at a stroke" and questioned whether "advisers are now running the show". Whitty does not have any power to change government policy as his role is advisory. Any changes to government strategy are on the authority of the Prime Minister. 

In an Commons committee session on Thursday, Whitty dismissed today's criticism from Tory MPs.

"This is advice that I think any CMO would have given and I don’t think any minister is feeling I’m treading on their toes on this one," Whitty said. 

"I am really cautious about making policy on the basis that everything might go right."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the Prime Minister should take on the "swivel-eyed tendency" in his party.

"This is an astonishing series of attacks on the Chief Medical Officer," Streeting tweeted.

"The Prime Minister needs to take on the swivel-eyed tendency in the Tory Party, but he's too weak.

"While [the] Conservative Party plunges into disarray, Labour will always be here to stand up for public health."

A Downing Street spokesperson said they did not agree with Morrissey's analysis and said Whitty was a "hugely trusted" part of the pandemic response.

"Professor Whitty is a hugely respected and trusted public servant who provides independent evidence-based advice, I think he himself has been clear that he provides advice and it is right for ministers and elected politicians to decide," they said.

"He has been a hugely trusted and valued part of our pandemic response and continues to do so."

Speaking at today's evidence session, Whitty also gave further warnings that hospital admissions could rise above levels seen in the previous peak.

"It is possible – because this is going to be very concentrated – that even if [Omicron] is milder, because it's concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day – that is entirely possible."

He added that while there were still "huge uncertainties" around the new variant, medics would be looking at how long people were staying in hospital with the virus to help determine its severity.

"If, for example, people stay in hospital for a shorter period, because they're protected by prior vaccination, that means that the total number could still be lower even if the peak number per day is higher," he added.

But Whitty dismissed suggestions that the NHS was prioritising Covid over other serious health conditions.

"This is sometimes said by people who have no understanding of health at all, but I don't think it said anyone who's serious," he said.

"When they say it, it's usually because they want to make a political point."

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