Jeremy Hunt has been mocked for appealing for junior doctors to not “argue about statistics” after his own were roundly condemned.
The Health Secretary repeatedly claimed that 6,000 more people died in NHS care at weekends each year, during his fight over a new contract that led to a wave of strikes.
The claim was his rhetorical centrepiece of the Government’s troubled efforts to hand junior doctors a new contract.
But it was repeatedly questioned or denied, including by the British Medical Journal, where the study he cherry-picked the figure from was published.
Hunt also triggered a fresh row when it emerged the data he had seen was unverified and unpublished at the time.
At the Tory Party Conference on Tuesday, Hunt said: “I say to the BMA and all junior doctors: Let’s not argue about statistics or whether we can do more to raise standards for patients. The NHS you believe in is the NHS we are building.
“So call off the strikes for good and start working with us to deliver safer care, seven days a week, for patients and their families.”
Hunt’s dismissal of statistics triggered a round of mockery on Twitter, where he was accused of dismissing arguments about statistics “having lost the argument about statistics”.
One doctor said Hunt had been “misleading parliament and the public”.
Junior doctor Rachel Clarke tweeted: “Personally, I like to practice evidence-based medicine.” She added: “But Jeremy Hunt wants NHS doctors to shut up and stop debating statistics.”
Hunt’s comment particularly irked some given Hunt spent large part of his speech citing statistics, including saying “eight recent studies” showed there was a 15% higher mortality rate at weekends.
The flagship announcement in Hunt’s speech - that more doctors would be trained to reduce the NHS’ reliance on immigrants - was condemned earlier on Tuesday.
The prime minister appeared to suggest foreign-born doctors will not be welcome in the United Kingdom beyond 2025, after Hunt announced plans to train up to 1,500 more doctors a year in a bid to make NHS England “self-sufficient” on UK doctors.
BMA chair Mark Porter said: “While it is welcome that he has finally admitted the Government has failed to train enough doctors to meet rising demand, this announcement falls far short of what is needed.
“The Government’s poor workforce planning has meant that the health service is facing huge and predictable staff shortages.
“We desperately need more doctors, particularly with the Government plans for further seven-day services, but it will take a decade for extra places at medical school to produce more doctors.
“This initiative will not stop the NHS from needing to recruit overseas staff.”