Labour’s new shadow health secretary has skewered Theresa May over her comments on foreign doctors, joking the Prime Minister could resort to launching ‘Go Home’ ambulances.
Jonathan Ashworth used his first Commons address since being promoted to jibe the government, accusing May of “scaremongering” for her suggestion migrant medics would not be welcome in Britain after 2025.
Tackling minister Philip Dunne at health questions on Tuesday, Ashworth said:
“The minister says there was no rhetoric or scaremongering last week.
“Can he explain to the House what the Prime Minister meant when she said: ‘There will be staff here from overseas in that interim period until the further number of British doctors are able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals.’
“What did that mean and what should we expect next? Ambulances plastered with go home slogans?”
Ashworth was referring to the ‘Go Home’ van scheme launched by Theresa May when she was home secretary, which saw billboards mounted on trucks driven around London urging illegal immigrants in Britain to return home.
The scheme was scrapped in October 2013 after May was reported to have decided it was unsuccessful. Only one person was voluntarily repatriated as a result of the campaign.
The quip on Tuesday drew groans from the Conservative benches, with Dunne springing to his feet to criticise the “ill-judged” remark.
Ashworth was accused of peddling an “inappropriate rumour” and was urged by the minister to use “more measured language” in his future addresses.
But the Leicester South MP hit back, saying complaints about ill-judged and misrepresentative comments were better directed at the Prime Minister.
May faced a backlash after both she and Hunt laid out plans to make NHS England more “self-sufficient” by training up to 1,500 memore doctors a year to tackle a growing recruitment crisis.
The PM had said medics from overseas would work in the NHS during an “interim period - until the further number of British doctors are able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals”.
But her comments sparked a swift backlash, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying the “arrogance’ of the UK government was “breathtaking”.
Medics also used the hashtag ‘#NotAllHunts’ to attack Hunt for backing the policy.
In interviews after the criticism, May appeared to change her stance. When asked if foreign doctors would be asked to go home, she told Five News “No...we want to see more British doctors being trained”.
Watch the full exchange below: