Labour MPs are turning up to fewer health committees designed to help the country recover from the pandemic than their Tory peers, MailOnline can reveal.
Minutes show Labour representatives sitting on the Health and Social Care Committee have attended just half of its meetings in the last six months, on average. The equivalent figure for Conservative representatives was around 80 per cent.
They include evidence sessions on clearing the Covid-fuelled NHS backlog and getting vital cancer services back up and running, as well as interrogating the Government over its response to the pandemic.
The 11-member committee, headed by former Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has four Labour MPs on it. Two of them have attended just nine of the last 16 meetings, while the other two have only shown up for six.
A senior Tory, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘It’s disappointing that any select committee should have people that regularly don’t turn up, but particularly when what they are covering matters [that matter as] much as Covid.’
Labour disputed the analysis, saying three of its members were excused by the chair for personal, health or other reasons. It also claimed its members played key roles in compiling evidence for the meetings, which grills senior ministers, and said rules barred them from attending virtually.
Data shows that over the last six months, Tory MPs attended 82.5 per cent of oral evidence sessions, which are chaired by a Conservative party member. Meanwhile, the lone Scottish National Party MP on the committee went to 63 per cent and Labour MPs showed up for just 47 per cent. Labour members Rosie Cooper and Barbara Keeley attended 56 per cent of the meetings, while fellow party MPs Taiwo Owatemi and Sarah Owen showed up for less than four in 10. Meanwhile, Mr Hunt went to all the meetings , while Tory MPs Paul Bristow and Dr Luke Evans attended more than eight in 10. And Conservative party members Laura Trott and Dean Russell went to around 70 per cent
Data shows that over the last six months, Tory MPs attended 82.5 per cent of oral session meetings.
Meanwhile, the lone Scottish National Party MP on the committee went to 62.5 per cent. But she was only a member since May 25, meaning she effectively went to 76.9 per cet.
Labour members Rosie Cooper and Barbara Keeley attended nine of the 16 meetings since the Government took the third step of its lockdown-easing plan in May.
MPs launch inquiry into future of GPs as Jeremy Hunt warns the ‘beating heart of the NHS is in crisis’ due to staffing crisis and pandemic backlog
MPs have launched an inquiry into the future of general practice, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning the service is ‘in crisis’.
There have been growing reports of patients showing up at A&E because they can’t get access to a GP and not being seen face-to-face even when they do get an appointment.
Cross-party MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee will examine the barriers stopping patients from accessing doctors and the challenges facing GPs.
Mr Hunt, the Tory chair of the committee, said general practice is the ‘beating heart of the NHS’ but patients are ‘increasingly uncertain of what they can expect’.
He warned that doctors are ‘utterly exhausted and demoralised’.
GPs are currently facing crippling staff shortages, pandemic backlogs and unprecedented demand, with a record 28.5million appointments delivered in England last month.
At the same time, the Government has scolded surgeries for not doing enough face-to-face consultations. Latest figures show just 60 per cent of GP appointments in September were in-person, compared to 80 per cent before the pandemic.
Fellow party MPs Taiwo Owatemi and Sarah Owen showed up for just six.
Labour did not respond to a request for comment on why its members did not attend more meetings.
The committee’s chair Mr Hunt went to all the meetings, while Tory MPs Paul Bristow and Dr Luke Evans attended 14 and 13 meetings, respectively.
And Conservative party members Laura Trott and Dean Russell went to 12 and 11 meetings, respectively.
The eleventh member of the committee only joined last week, but has been to every meeting since then.
The committee is responsible for scrutinising the Government and health service by examining policy, spending and administration.
MPs on the committee often bring up local issues raised by their constituents, such as not being able to access crucial care.
The committee, alongside the Science and Technology Committee, famously grilled Dominic Cummings when he detailed the Government’s shambolic initial Covid response and called for the then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock to be sacked.
And the two committees also questioned Mr Hancock over his handling of care homes, particularly his decision to send untested hospital patients back into care homes last spring.
It has been singled out as the leading factor behind the crisis in the sector.
All MPs on the Health Committee were present for the two sessions with Mr Cummings, which took place in May and Mr Hancock, which occurred in June.
Around a quarter of the meetings in the last six months have been on clearing the NHS backlog caused by the pandemic.
The MPs will produce a report on the level of pent-up demand in the health service and what changes need to be made within the organisation to manage the waiting list.
And the inquiry — which involved quizzing NHS England bosses Amanda Pritchard and Professor Stephen Powis — will determine how much cash and staff are needed to clear the backlog, including in elective surgery, A&E, general practice and mental health.
Another quarter of the meetings were on the cancer services inquiry, which is investigating why cancer outcomes in England are worse than other countries.
During the committee’s evidence sessions on cancer services, Professor Mike Griffin (pictured left), a cancer surgeon, said cancer survival rates could stall over the next decade due to the impact of coronavirus on the NHS. And Professor Pat Price (pictured right), a consultant clinical oncologist, said cancer doctors have been told to make sure a tenth of their staff are available to be redeployed to the NHS frontline this winter
The committee will also determine how the pandemic has affected cancer services and what needs to happen to catch up.
As part of evidence sessions, top doctors told the committee cancer survival rates could stall over the next decade due to the impact of the pandemic on the NHS.
MPs also heard how oncologists were made to ‘clear bedpans’ on Covid wards or redeployed as ‘mortuary assistants’ instead of treating cancer patients.
But no Labour MPs were present at the two most recent meetings on cancer care when these issues were brought up.
Other meetings were on the lessons learnt from the coronavirus, which resulted in the report that laid bare the Government’s catalogue of failures during the pandemic, leading to thousands of needless deaths.
It also castigated the ‘chaotic’ performance of the £37billion test and trace system and found ministers were blinded by ‘groupthink’ among scientific advisers, who wrongly wanted to manage the spread of the virus, rather than suppress it.
And other meetings on supporting people with dementia resulted in a damning report that sufferers will rack up tens of thousands of pounds up in care costs before the Government’s health and social levy comes in in 2023.
The report called for ‘significant additional investment’ in the sector within weeks, as well as a ‘bold funding reform and long-term plan’.