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A Tory MP has sparked outrage after he suggested NHS staff also “let their hair down” during the pandemic as a defence of Boris Johnson.
Following the publication of Sue Gray’s report into lockdown parties at Downing Street, the prime minister was faced with calls to quit from some Tory MPs.
But Conservative MP Richard Bacon said the prime minister should not be “condemned” for “thanking his staff for working very, very hard”.
He then went on to say that some NHS workers may also have had similar parties, despite working long shifts.
He told BBC Look East: "You haven't gone and investigated it but there are one and a half million people who work in the NHS.
“I bet if you tried hard enough you could find some people letting their hair down who were working 24/7 in the NHS as well.”
Bacon’s comments have prompted fury from shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who demanded an immediate retraction.
He tweeted: “(It’s) a grotesque insult to the people who work for the NHS. He should withdraw this and apologise.”
BBC presenter Gary Lineker also reacted, tweeting: “Hospitals are really big buildings. Nurses and doctors were working really long hours.
Watch: Bereaved husband shares his reaction to Partygate report
"Some of them, no doubt, left their jobs and, yet, somehow still managed not to have a party after work and follow the rules that they didn’t actually make.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) said that doctors and colleagues "will be outraged to hear their names being used to defend the rule-breaking behaviour of the prime minister and senior officials in Downing Street".
Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of BMA council, said: “Drawing such a comparison will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of NHS staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, often unprotected and at great expense to their wellbeing, to care for patients in the most gruelling of circumstances.
“While the prime minister’s aides were ‘letting their hair down’ and messaging that they had ‘got away with it’, doctors and healthcare workers were giving their all – and for some, their lives – to care for their patients, working hour after hour, and day after day, with little or no respite...
“It is therefore a gross insult to doctors and healthcare staff to compare the flagrant rule-breaking in Downing Street with the diligence, compassion and professionalism of healthcare workers.”
Labour’s Khalid Mahmood said Bacon’s comment was “disgraceful”, adding: “To make this horrid comment in comparison is unforgivable.”
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Royal College of Nursing for a comment.
The prime minister declined to implement a booze ban in Downing Street despite Gray’s findings during a period when Johnson ordered the public into isolation.
She said officials drank so much they were sick, became involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff.
Johnson refused to resign despite accepting the “bitter and painful” conclusions of the senior official’s inquiry that revealed lurid details of partying in government.
He said he “overwhelmingly” believes he should stay in power to tackle the nation’s challenges including the soaring costs of food and energy.
A snap poll from YouGov suggested three in five Britons want Johnson to quit.