Downing Street accused of ‘gagging’ experts after allegedly axing chief nurse from daily briefings

PUBLISHED: 16:22 15 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:39 15 June 2020

NHS chief nursing officer Ruth May was allegedly dropped from daily coronavirus briefings after refusing to support Dominic Cummings in public; Sky News

NHS chief nursing officer Ruth May was allegedly dropped from daily coronavirus briefings after refusing to support Dominic Cummings in public; Sky News

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The government is under pressure to explain why chief NHS England nurse, Ruth May, was axed from daily coronavirus briefings after allegations emerged she was dropped for refusing to back Dominic Cummings’ lockdown breaking.

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Boris Johnson and his ministers are being accused of ‘gagging’ May and other health officials because they allegedly declined to back Cummings in public.

According to the Independent, May was asked for her views on Johnson’s adviser and the controversy surrounding his Durham visit and was subsequently dropped when she declined to support him.

The incident, which happened on June 1, saw Professor John Newton from Public Health England appear alongside health minister Matt Hancock instead.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has also disappeared from daily press conferences after saying that lockdown rules “apply to all” when asked about Cummings’ trip. He has not appeared at a briefing since May 30.

MORE: Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance refused to do press conference after Dominic Cummings statement

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The Liberal Democrats have since written to Hancock demanding an explanation, accusing the government of “threatening the confidence the public has in the government’s approach to lifting lockdown”.

“As the government continues to relax lockdown, it is vital that both the government and the public listen to these experts and follow public health advice,” wrote by party health spokesperson Munira Wilson.

“If these reports are true, by silencing them, the government is not only denying the public the opportunity to hear from them, but also threatening the confidence the public has in the government’s approach to lifting lockdown, and more broadly in how and when government is using and sharing expert advice.”

Wilson called reports of nurse May’s axing as “incredibly concerning”.

“The reports over the weekend regarding the silencing of England’s Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May, were incredibly concerning, particularly as there have already been accusations that the government is trying to gag the experts who appear at the daily press conferences over the Dominic Cummings controversy,” Wilson said.

“The secretary of state must come forward and confirm whether there is any truth in these reports. With public health already at risk thanks to ministers’ defence of Dominic Cummings, Matt Hancock must answer to whether the government’s continued attempts to defend Cummings know no bounds.”

No 10 has vehemently denied the claims, adding that health and scientific advisers would continue to take questions in the briefings.

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