Theresa May is locked in an embarrassing row with hospital campaigners one day before a crunch by-election, over claims their petition was turned away from No.10.
The We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group was furious after it was barred from entering Downing Street and was told: “You can't come in. Today is not a good day. After Thursday would be better.”
They attempted to hand in the 30,000-signature petition ahead of tomorrow’s by-election in Copeland, Cumbria – which the Conservatives hope to win, snatching the seat from Labour.
But, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms May rebuked an MP who claimed the campaigners had been “turned away at the gates”.
The Prime Minister said: “A petition was, indeed, delivered to No.10. The petition was accepted by No.10 Downing Street yesterday
“So I suggest to the honourable lady that she considers what she said in her question.”
Ms May also declined – as she did in the constituency last week – to say whether she opposed the downgrade of maternity services at the hospital, a key by-election controversy.
Last year, she said there was a “general consensus” among local clinicians that the consultant-led unit should close, because of staff recruitment problems - even though women with difficult births would then be forced to travel 40 miles along a single-lane road to Carlisle.
In the Commons today, the Prime Minister said only that Trudy Harrison, the Conservative candidate in Copeland, opposed the downgrade – without giving her Government’s view.
“I am aware of the issues that have been raised around West Cumberland Hospital,” Ms May said.
“She has made very clear that she wants to see no downgrading of services at West Cumberland Hospital. She has made that clear to me and to health ministers.”
The campaigners had protested at being forced to hand their petition to a police officer at the No.10 gates – which showed ministers “do not care about or have any interest in West Cumbria”.
The row was followed by a stormy Prime Minister’s Questions, during which Tory MPs angrily rubbished Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that “nine out of ten NHS trusts are unsafe”.
Mr Corbyn said: “There is a nurse shortage - something should be done about it, such as reinstating the nurses' bursary.
“Your Government has put the NHS and social care in a state of emergency. Nine out of ten NHS trusts are unsafe.”
One Conservative MP shouted “absolute rubbish” in response to this claim, believed to refer to the proportion of hospitals with more beds occupied than recommended safety limits.
But Mr Corbyn went on: “Eighteen thousand patients a week are waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors.”
In reply, Ms May insisted 54 per cent of hospital trusts are considered good or outstanding, adding: “Quite different from the figure that he has shown.
“I won't take any lessons from the party that presided over Mid Staffs hospital. And they say we should learn lessons.
“I'll tell you who should learn lessons - it's the Labour Party, who still fails to recognise if you're going to fund the NHS - and we're putting more money in, there are more doctors, more operations, more nurses - you need a strong economy.”
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