When Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan returned to Parliament yesterday to ask questions of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, he warned the frontline worker to ‘watch her tone’ – and the internet was having none of it.
It’s safe to say that Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has been pretty busy during the coronavirus outbreak. Alongside managing her position as a Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Allin-Khan has returned to the NHS to support her colleagues on the frontline during the pandemic.
Speaking of the impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on health workers across the country, Dr Allin-Khan returned to Parliament yesterday to ask questions of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But instead of shining a light on the realities of key workers facing the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, her visit to Parliament has made headlines for a very different reason, after Hancock told Dr Allin-Khan to watch her tone when asking questions.
“Frontline workers, like me, have had to watch families break into pieces, as we deliver the very worst of news to them. That the ones they love most in this world, have died,” she said, going on to describe the government’s testing strategy as “non-existent” and claiming that testing figures were being manipulated.
“Does the health secretary acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives, and is responsible for many families being torn apart in grief?” she concluded.
It’s clear that Dr Allin-Khan’s address was informed by her work on the NHS frontline, and it’s incredible to see her bringing her experience into Parliament. Unfortunately, however, Dr Allin Khan’s powerful message wasn’t the first thing Hancock decided to highlight.
“I welcome the honourable lady to her post. I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary’s book in terms of tone,” he responded, before going on to address her concerns.
Taking to Twitter after the interaction, Dr Allin-Khan made it clear she wasn’t impressed with the response – and the internet was quick to criticise Hancock for his unnecessary remark.
“I will respectfully challenge the government – I want our country to succeed. However, I will not ‘watch my tone’ when dozens of NHS and care staff are dying unnecessarily,” she wrote, before later adding: “I will not ‘watch my tone’ when dozens of NHS and care staff are dying unnecessarily. Families are being torn apart.”
Following the tweet, which has now attracted over 85,000 likes, Dr Allin-Khan was flooded with support from colleagues and public figures alike.
“Something creepy about a man telling a woman to watch her tone!” responded fellow Labour MP Harriet Harman. “Worse that he recommends she adopts the tone of another man. I suggest @matthancock changes this.”
“Yikes,” added campaigner and Jo Cox’s widower Brendan Cox. “Telling someone to watch their tone while completely misjudging theirs…”
“Thank Rosena for advocating for doctors and NHS staff so eloquently,” The Doctors’ Association UK responded. “This is shameful from the Health Secretary.”
“I was watching Health Questions,” added Diane Abbott MP. “Absolutely nothing wrong with your tone. It reflects and reverberates with the reality of what yourself and other NHS workers are experiencing. Hancock very unwise to be so dismissive.”
“Winced when Hancock said this,” said domestic abuse campaigner David Challen. “Dr Allin-Khan’s tone is one of an NHS worker risking her life in the field that Hancock is leading as the Secretary of State for Health. She’s exercising her right to hold govt to account! He might wish to redress his male authoritarian tone here!”
Piers Morgan also jumped to the defence of Dr Allin-Khan, saying: “It’s the Health Secretary who needs to watch his ‘tone’, especially when an A&E doctor MP asks perfectly legitimate questions on the day Britain moved to 2nd worst reported #coronavirus death toll in the world.”
If there’s one thing we can all take away from this interaction, it’s that listening to our frontline workers – whether that’s doctors, nurses, care workers or supermarket employees – is the most important thing we can do during this pandemic.
Learning more about what it’s really like to work on the coronavirus frontline is essential if we’re going to continue to flatten the curve and reduce the number of lives lost to this devastating virus – and Matt Hancock would do well to remember that.