Doctor MPs Say No 10 Party Defence Is An "Insult" To Sacrifices Made By NHS Staff
MPs also working in the medical profession have called Boris Johnson’s defence of events held in Downing Street during lockdown “an absolute joke” and “an insult” to the sacrifices made by NHS staff, many of whom lost their lives to Covid.
On Tuesday Johnson insisted that he didn’t know a gathering of 40 staff in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, when social mixing with more than one person outside of your household was prohibited, would be against the rules because he believed it to be a “work event”.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow mental health minister and an A&E doctor at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, has been especially scathing about the Prime Minister’s explanation.
“It's an absolute joke. It's an insult. It's like a slap in the face to everybody who has put their lives at risk – some of whom lost their lives – and risked harming their loved ones,” Allin-Khan told The House.
Alongside working as an MP, Allin-Khan has returned to the wards during the pandemic, as the NHS battled against several waves of Covid.
“I remember going to shifts and coming back and shouting at my young children not to run up to me and hug me, so I could take my clothes off, shower, wash my hair, everything so as not to have them catch Covid," she continued.
"That was what people were going through on a daily basis.”
Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure over a string of revelations about alleged parties in Downing Street throughout the pandemic. While Downing Street has insisted the events have been for work purposes, an email from the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, inviting 100 staff to “socially distanced drinks” in the Number 10 garden on 20 May 2020, has proved more difficult to justify. In the email, leaked to ITV News, Reynolds urged staff to “bring your own booze”.
Downing Street has denied allegations from Dominic Cummings that the Prime Minister knew in advance about the event or that he was warned that the drinks would break Covid rules. Last week the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that he attended the party for 25 minutes to thank staff and “implicitly believed” it was a work event.
Privately, former Number 10 staff have said that a series of alleged outdoor drinks in May 2020 seemed reasonable at the time as the result of long days spent working closely together, making “insanely stressful” decisions.
According to the Telegraph, Downing Street staff were sent to the nearby Co-op supermarket with a suitcase to buy wine for two leaving parties on 16 April 2021, and partied into the night with one staffer acting as a DJ.
Allin-Khan noted that NHS staff were also under extreme pressure during the pandemic, and dismissed suggestions Downing Street staff were subject to exceptional circumstances.
“We saw our colleagues die, some of my colleagues were in intensive care for months,” she continued.
“I will not buy for a hot second that a bunch of civil servants felt so stressed that they thought it was okay to break the rules, that they took suitcases to local supermarkets, filled it with bottles of wine, and then came back and decided which civil servant was going to be the DJ.”
SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford, a breast cancer surgeon, was also dismissive of alleged behaviour by Downing Street staff.
“The idea of any key workers, particularly, nurses, doctors and care workers, piling out into the carpark outside the hospital and cracking open bottles of wine is unimaginable,” Whitford told The House.
“My local health board was the first to set up a wellbeing centre that was staffed with a consultant psychologist trying to provide comfort within the hospital, because the staff in the hot areas didn't feel they could be going to the canteen because they were trying to keep themselves separate from other staff.
“The jobs that were being done by people in Downing Street were desk jobs, they could have been at home, yet they were there and it was considered normal on a Friday night to pile into a room and drink wine.
“It's part of the Westminster bubble mentality. I think they were imagining themselves in Churchill's war rooms, and I think a fish rots from the head. This idea that rules don't apply is something very specific to Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.”
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