Tory MP slammed for saying NHS workers 'also let their hair down' during lockdown

26 May 2022, 07:25 | Updated: 26 May 2022, 07:44

Richard Bacon has attracted criticism from Wes Streeting over his comments about healthcare workers
Richard Bacon has attracted criticism from Wes Streeting over his comments about healthcare workers. Picture: Alamy/Parliament.uk

By Daisy Stephens

A Conservative MP has been criticised for suggesting that NHS workers also broke Covid rules.

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Defending Prime Minister Boris Johnson after Sue Gray's damning report was published, Richard Bacon said healthcare staff were also "letting their hair down" during the pandemic and said Government staff were "under extraordinary pressure".

"I am not happy with the revelations," the MP for South Norfolk told the BBC.

"But I think they were working under huge pressure.

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"You haven't investigated it, but there are 1.5 million people who work in the NHS and I bet if you tried hard enough you could find some people letting their hair down who had been working 24-7.

"We were under extraordinary pressure in a global pandemic and we didn't really know what we were dealing with."

Richard Bacon said NHS workers also broke the rules
Richard Bacon said NHS workers also broke the rules. Picture: Parliament.uk

The 59-year-old's comment prompted anger from Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.

"A grotesque insult to the people who work for the NHS," tweeted the MP for Ilford North.

"He should withdraw this and apologise."

Mr Bacon also said Mr Johnson should not resign over the content of the Sue Gray report, which flagged a culture of excessive drinking, abuse of junior members of staff and evidence that individuals knew they were breaking the rules.

"The fact [Mr Johnson] goes round thanking his staff for working very, very hard, 18 hours a day trying to keep the show on the road while we were in a global pandemic, is not a crime and I don’t think it is something he should be condemned for and I certainly don’t think it is something he should resign for," he said.

"I support Boris."

Read more: Boris Johnson is a problem that the Tories are unwilling to solve, says Ben Kentish

Read more: Read it in full: Sue Gray's much-anticipated final Partygate report

The MP said some NHS staff 'let their hair down' after long shifts
The MP said some NHS staff 'let their hair down' after long shifts. Picture: Alamy

Sue Gray's 60-page long report into lockdown-breaching gatherings in Downing Street was published on Wednesday.

It investigated 16 separate parties across 12 dates and found that the amount of alcohol consumed by staff was "not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time".

At a leaving party on June 18 2020, the report noted that one individual was sick after "excessive alcohol consumption", and two others got into a "minor altercation".

The report also found that messages exchanged between members of staff suggested they knew they were breaking the rules.

Martin Reynolds, in a message to a special adviser on an unknown date, referred to the "BYOB" party in the Downing Street party on May 20 and said: "We seem to have got away with [it]".

At the same party, staff were told beforehand to keep the noise down and keep alcohol out of sight whilst a scheduled press conference was going on.

Watch: Iain Dale: PM has 'big challenge' winning back trust of people who voted for him in 2019

Labour MP Wes Streeting branded the comments "grotesque"
Labour MP Wes Streeting branded the comments "grotesque". Picture: Alamy

Watch: 'Egregious, stinking behaviour': Andrew Marr's instant reaction to Sue Gray's report

The report also found that cleaners - one of whom reporting coming into work to find red wine spilled up the wall after a particular raucous party - and security staff were treated poorly and with a "lack of respect".

The report concluded that, whilst the parties were attended by all levels of Government, responsibility for the culture lay with senior leaders.

"The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government," the report said.

"Some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.

"The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture."