Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

NHS reforms and Andrew Lansley's conflict of interest

The Health and Social Care Bill, which, if passed, will introduce widespread changes to the way the NHS is run, has been much in the news lately. It's probably fair to say that it's controversial. Doctors don't want it. Nurses don't want it. Given that doctors and nurses between them know quite a bit about how the NHS works, that really ought to be enough to give politicians pause for thought.

I'm not going to get into a detailed discussion of the merits or otherwise of the Health and Social Care Bill here. If you're interested in some of my more detailed thoughts on the bill, I've recorded a couple of contributions to the Pod Delusion about it, which you can listen to here and here.

No, in this post I simply want to share with you a feature of the way this debate has been portrayed in the media that find utterly baffling. Perhaps you can explain to me what is going on, because I really don't understand it.

One of the consequences of the bill is that the role of private healthcare providers in the NHS will be much increased. Clearly, if you run a private healthcare company, the bill will be good for business.

It has been in the public domain for some time that Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary and the main political force behind the bill, has been personally funded by a private healthcare company.

Isn't that a massive conflict of interest?

I mean, a really, really huge conflict of interest?

So what I don't understand is this. Why hasn't Lansley's conflict of interest been the major news story whenever the Health and Social Care Bill crops up?

I can think of a number of explanations, none of which is entirely satisfactory.

Perhaps the story about Lansley's funding wasn't true and in reality he hasn't received a penny from the claimed sources. After all, it was just a story in a newspaper. However, to the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever tried to deny it. Did I miss the denial and the apology for printing a made-up story?

Or do the media believe that Lansley is a professional sort of chap who wouldn't let the little matter of a £21,000 donation cloud his judgement? However, when we live in a world in which payments to physicians of $25 are considered to influence their prescribing behaviour, doesn't that seem, well, a little naive?

Is it that the mainstream media are afraid to say bad things about major politicians because they need to keep them on side so that they can get juicy interviews? If so, that's worrying if we have a media that are afraid to hold politicians to account.

Or maybe it's just that we have reached the point where sleaze and corruption is simply the expected behaviour for our political classes and it's no longer considered newsworthy. That's a horrible thought, but I suspect it could be closest to the truth here.

What am I missing? Why is Lansley's personal funding not the main news story every day that the Health and Social Care Bill is being talked about?


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