Rees-Mogg 'Sorry' for Comparing Doctor to Anti-vax Campaigner

Peter Russell

September 06, 2019

Jacob Rees-Mogg apologised for attacks he made against an NHS consultant who had warned about the health consequences of leaving the EU without a deal.

The Commons leader prompted outrage from health professionals, including England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), when he compared Dr David Nicholl with Dr Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor who linked the MMR vaccine to autism in the 1990s.

The row over post-Brexit drug supplies began on Monday during a phone in programme on LBC radio.

Dr Nicholl, who had been involved in medical planning for Operation Yellowhammer, the Government's contingency plan for a 'no-deal' Brexit, called to ask Mr Rees-Mogg what level of patient mortality he was prepared to accept if the country left the EU without a deal.

'Irresponsible'

The Commons leader accused Dr Nicholl, a consultant neurologist with Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, of "scaremongering".

On Thursday, Mr Rees-Mogg went further. He told MPs: "A lot of remainers wish to make our skins crawl, and I'm afraid it seems to me that Dr David Nicholl is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield."

A shocked Dr Nicholl described the comments as an attempt to bully a whistleblower using parliamentary privilege for legal protection. Speaking through a megaphone outside parliament, the neurologist said: "I challenge Jacob Rees-Mogg to come out of the House of Commons and repeat what he said in public. If he does, I will sue."

'Disrespectful and Unacceptable''

The continuing row prompted CMO Prof Dame Sally Davies to write to Mr Rees-Mogg complaining of her "disappointment in the disrespectful way you spoke to and about Dr David Nicholl".

Dame Sally wrote: "Comparing an established medical expert to a man who was struck off the Medical Register by the General Medical Council, and described by them as 'dishonest, irresponsible and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain of children' is going too far and is frankly unacceptable."

https://twitter.com/CMO_England/status/1169673321522388995

The British Medical Association (BMA) described Mr Rees-Mogg's attack as "utterly disgraceful and totally irresponsible". Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "Highly experienced doctors like David Nicholl who decide to speak out about risks to life and patient care, should be supported and listened to, not attacked and derided by those who hold positions of responsibility. 

"This unwarranted attack is particularly galling as Mr Rees-Mogg belongs to the same Government that called upon Dr Nicholl's expertise to help draft medical opinion for Operation Yellowhammer, and who also wrote the mitigations for the event of a no-deal."

Apology

Last night Mr Rees-Mogg sought to draw a line under the row. He issued a statement which said: "I apologise to Dr Nicholl for the comparison with Dr Wakefield. I have the utmost respect for all of the country's hardworking medical professionals and the work they do in caring for the people of this country.

"The Government is working closely with the NHS, industry and distributors to help ensure the supply of medicine and medical products remains uninterrupted once we leave the EU on October 31st, whatever the circumstances."

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said he was glad that his Cabinet colleague had apologised. 

"One of my jobs as Health Secretary is to stick up for doctors," he tweeted. "It's vital clinicians can provide expert advice. I defend to the hilt the right of clinicians and civil servants to provide advice without fear or favour."

https://twitter.com/MattHancock/status/1169726491527196673


Image Credit: Parliament.uk

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