Labour Demands "Radio Silence" From Jeremy Hunt After Junior Doctors Deal
"His loose words and implied criticism of junior doctors is partly the reason why this has ended up being such an almighty mess," the shadow health secretary said.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been urged to keep silent in the wake of a deal with junior doctors – to make sure the long-running dispute is over for good.
Labour's Heidi Alexander said his "use of language" during the row was part of the reason it had "ended up being such an almighty mess".
But Hunt hit back, saying it was Labour's "flawed contract" for junior doctors in 1999 that meant it had to be changed in the first place.
He said blaming the Tories for the row was like "criticising a mechanic mending the car you just crashed".
The pair clashed in the House of Commons on Thursday, hours after it was announced that junior doctors had finally reached a deal with the government over controversial new contracts.
The revised contract will be put to 45,000 British Medical Association junior doctor members, although there is a concern that it might not be enough to win over medics. Thousands have taken part in strikes since January.
Shadow health secretary Alexander said: "I am pleased and relieved that an agreement has been reached but I am sad that it took an all-out strike of junior doctors to get the government back to the table.
"What is now clear is that a negotiated agreement was possible all along. So I have to ask the health secretary – why couldn't this deal have been struck in February? Why did he allow his pride back then to come before sensible compromise and constructive talks?"
She accused Hunt of having a "'computer says no' attitude" and said it was wrong to "bulldoze an imposed contract through" when virtually everyone had told him not to.
"Can I caution him on his use of language, both in this chamber and on the media?" she said. "His loose words and implied criticism of junior doctors is partly the reason why this has ended up being such an almighty mess.
"Can I suggest a degree of humility on the part of the secretary of state wouldn't go amiss and can I encourage a period of radio silence from him to allow junior doctors to consider the new contract with a clear mind and without his spin echoing in their ears?"
Alexander reminded Hunt that he still needed to get a majority of junior doctors to vote for the new contract in order for the dispute to be finally over.
Hunt hit back: "She is wrong today as she has been throughout this dispute. She spent a lot of time in the past 10 months criticising the way the government has sought to change this contract.
"But what she didn't dwell on is why it needed to be changed in the first place – namely the flawed contract for junior doctors put in place in 1999."
He said: "Whatever the progress made of today's landmark changes, it will always be a matter of great regret that it was necessary to go through such disruptive industrial action to get there.
"We may welcome the destination but no-one could have wanted the journey so I say to all junior doctors, whatever our disagreements about the contract may have been, the government has heard and understood the wider frustrations that you feel about the way you are valued and treated in the NHS.
"Our priority will always be the safety of patients but we also recognise that to deliver high-quality care we need a well-motivated and happy junior doctor workforce."