Matt Hancock MP, England’s new Health Secretary has caused a furore, having accepted donations from the chairman of a think-tank that supports the privatisation of the NHS.
Hancock was appointed by the Prime Minister following Jeremy Hunt’s appointment as Foreign Secretary in a cabinet reshuffle, forced on her by the resignations of Boris Johnson MP and David Davis MP. Mr Hancock received the payments from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) chair Neil Record. The donations include £4,000 to Hancock on 29 November 2013 for, in Hancock’s register of interests, support of “my parliamentary work and travel costs in my capacity as an MP.”
A separate donation was made to the West Suffolk MP on 28 November 2012 for the same amount.
Mr Record is the chair of the IEA which recently published How to Structurally Reform the National Health Service to Improve Patient Outcomes by Dr Kristian Niemietz, who in 2015 published an article on the IEA website claiming: “the NHS is not worth defending.”
In Dr Niemietz’s latest paper, he said: “Universal healthcare coverage is routinely praised as a unique British achievement, although this long ago ceased to be the case.”
An IEA statement to mark the 70th birthday of the health service said that the NHS is “older, but none the wiser,” with “no level of adoration or praise” making up for the fact that its “poor performance is costing thousands of lives each year.”
“As demographics continue to shift and pressures on the NHS become more burdensome, it is time to look to the Social Health Insurance systems in Europe, under which thousands more people survive serious conditions every year, including strokes and common types of cancer,” argued Kate Andrews, news editor at IEA.
“Tomorrow, the balloons will have deflated, the cake will be stale, and the NHS will be back to business as usual – that is, dealing with perpetual crises, one day after another. Let’s be honest about the NHS’s failures now, while there is still time to fix it.”
The Charity Commission will now investigate whether the IEA breached charity regulation over political independence.
The IEA is known as having strong links with the Conservative Party and has appeared in the media advocating the move towards a private insurance-based health system and a hard Brexit, describing the NHS as an “international laggard” and tweeting support for a “no deal” Brexit.
For an organisation to benefit from charity-status tax exemptions, it must not be seen to have political objectives and must be run for the public benefit.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said the organisation’s job is to hold charities to account against the charity law framework.
“Concerns about the political independence of the IEA have been brought to the commission’s attention, and we are currently assessing this information. We assess all concerns brought to us in line with our risk framework in order to determine if there are regulatory issues that require engagement.”