JREMY Hunt has hit back at critics who accuse him of using a “whole town” fight to prevent the possible closure of Haslemere Hospital minor injuries unit (MIU) as a party political football.
A row broke out after residents were asked to email the town MP’s election agent for tickets to the ‘Save Haslemere Minor Injuries Unit’ meeting Mr Hunt is holding so that supporters can flag up concerns directly to NHS bosses.
The request came in the mass-mailed Haslemere Residents Survey he sent out last week, which requested feedback on the threat to the unit, but also asked for information on recipients’ voting intentions.
Independent town and county councillor Nikki Barton objected: “We had been led to believe that this meeting, about a vital community asset, was genuinely a public meeting – open to all those in the community concerned, independent of any politics.
“It is clear however from the letter, that this public meeting to save our MIU is being explicitly used as part of an election campaign with entry to the meeting only granted once our personal data is shared, which could then in theory be used to select who attends, let alone for gaining an advantage in election campaigning in due course.”
Green town councillor, Gary Lloyd, told the Herald: “All action to defend the MIU is welcome, but to call a meeting ‘public’ when the Conservative Party not only controls attendance but is also exploiting the genuine depth of public concern about a serious local issue to build a database of information on local residents is, quite frankly, shameful.”
Responding to protests, Mr Hunt said he would not apologise for campaigning hard on an important issue and no emails requesting tickets for the meeting would be used for party political purposes. He added no one was under any obligation to fill out every question on the survey.
He said the only reason for ticketing the meeting to be held at 7pm in Haslemere Hall on Friday, December 6, was because the venue was likely to be full and his election agent was the best point of contact when the survey was sent out.
Haslemere Hall started issuing tickets on a ‘first come first served’ basis on Tuesday, ensuring seat reservations can now be made directly to the box office.
Mr Hunt has now written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, calling for him to intervene and prevent Haslemere MIU closing as “it would add enormous and unwelcome pressure onto the A & E at the Royal Surrey County Hospital”.