Labour caught out over NHS petition e-mails

Labour was caught up in a new row over its use of personal data after emailing NHS professionals using their work addresses to ask for their support.

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The move emerged after the party had been criticised for delivering campaign leaflets on the party’s cancer policy to 250,000 women, some of whom had the disease.

The postcards, produced by Tangent, which works for the Labour Party, said that the Tories would scrap a Labour guarantee that patients would see a cancer specialist within two weeks.

One of those who received the latest communication, a doctor, has complained that senior Labour figures are trying to pressure her into publicly backing the party against her will.

Labour is trying to organise a round robin letter from senior figures in the NHS saying that only Labour can be trusted to look after the health service.

The Twickenham GP, whose name has been withheld for fear of retribution, contacted the Conservatives in fury at the attempt to make her sign a petition.

The GP expressed concern that Amy Fowler, a development officer for the Labour Party, obtained her work e-mail address, which she claimed is not publicly available.

The petition that the doctor was being asked to sign, which is likely to have been forwarded to a newspaper, committed members of the health service to explicitly backing Labour.

It says: “We are a group of clinicians, staff and campaigners working in and with the NHS. Every day, every week, we see first-hand the quality of care which the NHS gives to patients when they need it most. At this election we are backing Labour as the party of the NHS which will do the most to improve it for all patients.

“There is more to do to improve the NHS, but it is this Labour Government which has shown commitment to the NHS by investing in more doctors, nurses, more services and new hospitals and GP practices. It is Labour who are making the tough decisions that will allow our NHS to be protected in the future from spending cuts which would harm patient care. And only Labour are prepared to put patients first, for example with guarantees to rapid access to cancer specialists and cancer tests.

“For these reasons we believe only Labour can be trusted to protect and improve our NHS at this election.” The e-mail came from Martin Rathfelder, from the Socialist Health Association, but was signed by Ms Fowler.

The GP said: “[This was] totally unsolicited by me. I have never been to any socialist events and would not mix my personal views with work. He says he got it from a list of trainers which is possible. I feel this is an absolute abuse of a publicly funded service. Don’t know anyone who would have nominated me.”

She added: “I am angry that they have e-mailed me at my work e-mail address and would very much like to know how they have obtained confidential NHS e-mail addresses. You might be interested to investigate a. where they obtained these addresses [and] b. whether it is appropriate to use the addresses in this party political way. Needless to say I do not support the petition!”

Paul Beresford, the Tory MP who represents the doctor, said: “This is a grossly unfair attempt by the Labour Party to draw NHS clinicians into political campaigning. They feel under threat of blacklisting if they do not sign up.” Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “The Labour Party need to explain how they have received these NHS e-mail addresses. If they are using the NHS private e-mail system to reach NHS staff for party political campaigning it is an abuse.

“We know from recent research that NHS staff support the Conservatives and not Labour because we are now more trusted to improve the NHS.”

Mr Lansley has written to Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, to demand that he apologises for the cancer postcards. He said: “Cancer sufferers across the country have condemned Labour’s scaremongering breast cancer leaflets, but still Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham refuse to apologise.”

When asked where he got the address, Mr Rathfelder replied that he obtained it “from a list of training practices”. However the GP said “I still feel it is an abuse of the NHS.”


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