In April 1993 Virginia Bottomley as Secretary of State for Health in the Conservative party under John Major, announced her intention to privatise the NHS. In a speech reported by the Independent to the Confederation of British Industry, Mrs Bottomley informed us that although NHS patients will still be treated free, ‘the service should 'buy' more care from private hospitals and health care companies such as Bupa.’
Forward wind 14 years and on the 17th of May 2007, Bupa announce the appointment of three new Non-executive Directors, one of which is Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone. One week before her appointment Bupa were awarded a contract with the Department of Health to carry out approximately 6,000 procedures a year for NHS patients.
It was perhaps unsurprising then, that when Baroness Bottomley had a chance to speak on the opening day of the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords that she should announce: 'I give this Bill an unequivocal and extraordinarily warm welcome.'
Praise indeed and when we look at the Baroness’s voting record, it becomes all the more transparent. Since becoming a life peer in June 2005, Mrs Bottomley’s attendance rate has been 20%. Last year she voted in less than half the Lords voting days, yet somehow she managed to turn up for every day of the Health and Social care bill discussion and there is no need to ask whether she voted loyally with the government or not.
Being a Baroness, and a director of Bupa is insufficient it would seem. In addition to these roles, Bottomley is a Director of International Resources Group Ltd and acts as a chair for the Odgers Berndtson Board & CEO Practice. The practice conducts searches for ‘high level’ Chairmen, CEOs and non-executive directors for plcs and private companies.
Odgers Berndtson works in thirteen industry areas including Healthcare, recruiting many staff into top NHS positions. On their website they boast: ‘Our unparalleled reach across the NHS, (and) private sector healthcare...enables us to attract inspirational candidates others might never find. They add: ‘Through thought-leadership seminars and networking, we bring the rising stars of the NHS together to inspire best practice and help shape a vision for the future.’
Presumably Odgers Berndston will be providing many of the top jobs in a reorganised NHS – the Department of Health certainly consider them important enough to meet personally, having held a meeting to discuss the Chief Medical Officer appointment in December 2010. Certainly they will be involved in finding people to head the commissioning groups. In a report by the recruitment company titled ‘Leadership and management Challenges in Clinical Commissioning Groups’, they say: ‘Making intelligent appointments to shadow Boards, and, subsequently, to management teams, through open and rigorous processes, will be the major determinant of success in the effort to develop leadership cultures in CCGs.’
Incidentally, the Baroness has shares in Broomco Ltd, which is a holding company of International Resources Group Ltd, which owns Odgers Berndston.
Thank goodness this is all the Baroness is involved in, except unfortunately that isn’t true. Mrs Bottomley is a board member of Akzo Nobel a multi-national company that specialises in paints and speciality chemicals. Akzo Nobel is listed in the NHS purchasing directory as decoration suppliers. Their tentacles reach into the NHS in other ways. Paul Kenderick the interim chairman of Newham University hospital was an employee of Akzo Nobel. Within the NHS he was for a number of years an Independent Special Advisor to the Healthcare Purchasing Consortium, providing purchasing, supply chain and commercial services to trusts. It is not suggested Mr Kenderick preferred his ex-employer when making purchases but such conflict of interests will become ever more relevant in a privatised NHS, especially in amongst the new doctors commissioning groups.
The conflicts of interest don’t end there. Baroness Bottomley is a Member of the International Advisory Board for Tokyo-based Chugai Pharmaceutical Company Ltd which researches biotechnology products. The company offers trials promoted through the NHS, as well as representing NHS South-West APBI last year on a discussion on improving ‘existing methods of communication between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.
Is it enough that Virginia Bottomley simply registers her interests but is still allowed to vote on the Health and Social care bill. Her sheer delight at the bill’s existence and her connections to companies that are already benefitting from the NHS, surely makes for an urgent need to change the rules of The Code of Conduct for members of the House of Lords. Why are these Lords with direct financial interests in private healthcare companies such as Lord Chadlington et al, allowed to influence a bill that will potentially help the companies they belong to.
Baroness Barker challenged us on this; demanding us to: ‘supply your evidence that any of the people named below who have taken part in the Health and Social Care Bill have failed to declare their interests as they are required to do. Please supply your evidence that the individuals named below have furthered their own interests.’ Baroness Barker misses the point; there is a moral question to be asked about whether MPs and Lords should have any interests outside of their parliamentary remit. Certainly they should surely not be allowed to vote on issues that affect the companies with which they have direct financial links.
You be the judge.