Labour health advisers angered by John McDonnell's parallel group

John McDonnell MP

John McDonnell has set up a secret group of advisers to help shape Labour’s stance on the NHS, in an apparent breach of the party’s rules and undermining of its policy process.

The shadow chancellor’s move has caused concern in Labour ranks because two of his new advisers are or have recently been members of other political parties, with which Labour is not meant to engage under its constitution.

Minutes of meetings held by Health Campaigns Together (HCT), an alliance of individuals and organisations dedicated to saving the NHS, show that McDonnell has agreed to be advised by a “thinktank” made up of some of its members.

One of the members is Dr Louise Irvine, a GP in south London who stood for the National Health Action party in Surrey South West at last year’s general election against the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and Labour’s Howard Kaye.

Another is Jo Land, a Green party activist in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, who is also involved in various NHS campaign groups including 999 Call for the NHS. On polling day last year Land tweeted a call for voters to back the Greens rather than Labour.

The documents make clear that Joe Ryle, an aide to McDonnell who until at least autumn 2014 was a press spokesman for the Green MEP Keith Taylor, helped put together the group.

The Guardian has seen an email he sent last month to Keith Venables and Tony O’Sullivan of HCT referring to 10 of the 11 people who were due to be on the advisory group.

“This is the final list of names I’m planning on taking to John for signoff later today which I hope means everyone is now happy,” Ryle wrote. The list included Irvine as a clinician adviser and Land as an NHS campaigner.

It is unclear whether advisers have to be members of the Labour party, despite their role in such a high-profile area of policymaking. Labour’s rules on “other organisations” state: “Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, having their own programme, principles and policy or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.”

The creation of the advisory group has angered members of Labour’s health and care policy commission, the party’s established health policymaking body, which is part of its national policy forum.

One member of the 28-strong body, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticised what they called “a parallel operation” inside the party on health policy and McDonnell’s involvement in its formation as “disrespectful” to members, many of whom work in the NHS and social care.

Commission members were not made aware of the rival group being set up. “It does seem to be the case that there is a parallel set of policymaking going on involving people in the party and people outside the party,” the source said.

McDonnell met the wider HCT group in the House of Commons on 13 April. The minutes show that “John liked the idea of a thinktank” and that “John assured the meeting that he would meet with campaigners again soon”. They also state: “Joe Ryle said that John McD was committed to an ongoing relationship.”

A spokesman for Labour said: “The Labour party has no knowledge of this group and it has no connection or affiliation to the Labour party.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Denis Campbell Health policy editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th June 2016 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010