Labour's Heidi Alexander attacks John McDonnell over NHS policy group

John McDonnell MP

Heidi Alexander, who quit as shadow health secretary last weekend, has criticised John McDonnell’s “totally unacceptable” conduct in setting up a team of NHS policy advisers without telling her.

The Guardian disclosed earlier on Thursday that McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, had secretly created a group of advisers, bypassing Labour’s usual policymaking processes, and that two of the advisers were or until recently had been members of other political parties.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Alexander said: “John McDonnell invited NHS campaigners to a meeting in the Commons but didn’t invite me. I challenged him about it. I was then invited and I was shouted at by some of the attendees.”

After that meeting on 13 April, she said, “John McDonnell then invited them to form an advisory group (again not telling me). I found out about this, said it was totally unacceptable and it must not be an advisory group.”

The advisory group had been due to hold its first meeting with her, McDonnell and the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but that never took place because she stepped down on Sunday after Corbyn sacked Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary.

In her last tweet explaining the row over Labour NHS policymaking, Alexander said: “One other thing: that was not the first time I was undermined but will save that for another day.”

The Lewisham East MP is widely admired for having led a successful campaign to save the A&E unit at Lewisham hospital in south-east London, defeating the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in the high court along the way.

Meanwhile, the MP who chairs the parliamentary Labour party’s backbench health committee has asked Labour’s general secretary to urgently investigate whether McDonnell has broken party rules.

In a letter to Iain McNicol about McDonnell, Emma Reynolds said that as well as formally complaining: “I would also like to seek your advice as to whether, in setting up this parallel organisation and working with members of other political parties, he is breaking any of the party’s rules or the PLP code of conduct.”

Reynolds, the MP for Wolverhampton North since 2010, makes clear her displeasure at McDonnell bypassing the party’s established health policymaking processes, including her committee.

“Labour party members have a wealth of experience in the NHS and social care. Many have fed into the national policy forum policymaking process,” she wrote.

“This is why it is so surprising and disappointing that John McDonnell has been secretly working with members of other political parties on health policy. Can you look into this as a matter of urgency?”

On Thursday night, a spokesman for McDonnell said: “John agreed to meet with NHS campaigners after complaints that Heidi Alexander wasn’t doing enough to support the junior doctors and protect the NHS.

“At a fraught meeting in the House of Commons with Heidi, one of the outcomes of the meeting was to set up an advisory group. At the meeting Heidi was open to the idea but then on afterwards she changed her mind and that was the end of it. This advisory group was never formally established and never met. If John was trying to set up a secret group then why would he invite the shadow health secretary to the meetings and discuss it with her?”

Powered by article was written by Denis Campbell Health policy editor, for on Thursday 30th June 2016 19.13 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010