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BARONESS Dido Harding was accused today of “xenophobic dog-whistling” after vowing to end the NHS’s reliance on foreign doctors if she becomes the head of the health service.
The former leader of the failed test-and-trace system says she wants to challenge the “prevailing orthodoxy” that it’s better to hire healthcare professionals from overseas, according to reports.
The pledge is said to be part of her application to take over from Sir Simon Stevens as head of NHS England next month.
But the Tory peer’s pitch has triggered a backlash from healthcare professionals and migrants’ rights campaigners.
“Migrant NHS workers risked their lives to keep our country going during the pandemic and this is Dido Harding’s response?” said the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in a post on social media.
“We need better pay, conditions and respect for our NHS workers — regardless of where they were born — not xenophobic dog-whistling.”
Non-British staff make up 14 per cent of the NHS workforce. Last year Home Secretary Priti Patel extended many healthcare workers’ visas free of charge, in recognition of their vital contribution during the pandemic.
As part of her pitch, Baroness Harding is also expected to put herself forwards as the “insider-outsider” at the NHS, due to her work in the private sector.
But NHS campaigners said they couldn’t think of a “worse appointment” than Baroness Harding for the job, given her record with test and trace.
A recent official report found that failures in the system led to a surge in Delta variant cases in Britain.
And in March, former head of the Treasury Lord Macpherson branded the £37 billion system the “most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time.”
Responding to Baroness Harding’s NHS England pitch, Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis said: “Not recognising the importance of the huge contribution made to the NHS by staff from other countries is no surprise given that she views the failed, privatised test and trace a success story.
“We need leaders who are insightful, steeped in experience of working within the NHS, and have a public-sector ethos with a determination to fight for a fully funded public service based on its founding principles. It is difficult to think of a worse appointment than Baroness Harding.”
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