Rishi Sunak has appointed a private healthcare lobbyist with links to a number of controversial clients to advise him in Downing Street, raising concerns about further privatization within the NHS.
Bill Morgan, founding partner of the public relations and lobbying firm Evoke Incisive Healthhe joined No 10 as a health policy adviser earlier this month, where he is believed to be helping boost NHS efficiencies.
He was previously an adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care for two months, but at the same time continued as a senior adviser to Incisive Health, according to his LinkedIn page, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest between his public role and that of the business. clientele.
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry last week, Sunak underlined his commitment to the health service, saying: “When it comes to the National Health Servicewe all share the same ambition…to provide everyone in the country with the best possible care, free at the point of use.”
However, there has been renewed focus on the prime minister’s views on private healthcare after The Guardian reported he was registered with a private GP who charges £250 for a consultation.
Morgan’s rise to the No. 10 spot will highlight some of his most controversial clients during his nine years at Evoke Incisive Health. Virgin Care was one of them when it controversially sued the NHS after losing to a rival group of internal NHS providers and a social enterprise in a £82m contract to provide children’s healthcare services in Surrey in 2016.
The company, which claimed there were “serious flaws in the recruitment process,” later secured an out-of-court settlement. Six clinical start-up groups and the NHS in England paid Virgin Care £1.57m. Surrey County Council handed over a further £440,000 and at least a further £243,000 was diverted from NHS frontline services to cover legal fees.
Another Incisive Health client, private mental health provider Cygnet, ran Whorlton Hall Specialist Hospital in County Durham, where 10 employees were arrested in 2019 after a BBC Panorama documentary exposed cruelty and abuse towards people with autism and learning disabilities. The 17-bed hospital, which it had taken over months earlier, was later closed.
Another Cygnet hospital, Bury Hudson, was given special measures in September and ordered to improve security after its overall performance was deemed “inadequate”, following an inspection by the Care Quality Commission in June when inspectors said patients told them they were being cared for. “bullied and abused by their peers and staff members” and that they did not feel safe in the wards.
Sara Gorton, head of health for Unison union, said: “Appointments like this will do nothing to reassure the public that the NHS is not in the government’s crosshairs for further privatisation. Ministers should put the interests of patients before ideology and private companies.
The Guardian understands that Morgan, whose appointment was approved by the Cabinet Office’s ethics and decorum team, has now sold his stake in the firm.
Morgan’s former company also represents the Independent Health Care Provider Network, which was formed in 2005 to give private health companies a voice.
Evoke Incisive Health represents a number of companies that have won major contracts within the NHS, including Orchard Therapeutics, Guardant Health and Spirit Health. They have also worked with the General Medical Council, the World Coalition Against Lung Cancer and the campaign group 38 degrees.
A government source said: “This government has made a record investment in the NHS and a record number of doctors and nurses working in it. It will never be for sale to the private sector.” Evoke Incisive Health declined to comment.