And the Department of Health is totally cool with that.
The Department of Health official in charge of money at the NHS has left the civil service to join a lobbying firm that represents Virgin Care and a host of other health privatisers.
In February 2016, Richard Douglas, the Department of Health's Director General of Finance, joined lobbying firm Incisive Health. Incisive Health is a health consultancy set up in 2013 by Bill Morgan, who was previously special adviser to Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, when Lansley pushed through the latest round of NHS privatisation.
Incisive Health offers public affairs advice to clients. They are paid to represent both Virgin Care and the NHS Partners Network – the trade body for NHS privatisers which includes all the leading firms such as Ramsay Healthcare, Care UK, Circle Health and others. As well as representing the top NHS privatisers, Incisive Health also represent some of the biggest drug firms selling to the NHS, including Pfizer and Bayer.
Announcing Richard Douglas' appointment, Incisive Health said he was "one of the most highly respected civil servants across Whitehall – including in 10 Downing Street and the Treasury". The lobbying firm also said, "Richard was at the centre of every major decision affecting the NHS for well over a decade – including structural reforms, Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme negotiations, large-scale public sector procurements and significant commercial partnerships."
Incisive is not exaggerating. Richard Douglas has been the Department of Health's Director General Policy, Strategy and Finance since 2007. As the man in charge of the NHS's money, Douglas was a very powerful figure in the health service. The Health Service Journal publishes an annual list of the 100 most influential people in UK health – in 2014, Douglas was number nine, the highest ranked Department of Health civil servant.
Last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said, in a tribute to Douglas, "Richard is retiring at the end of a highly distinguished career in the civil service, having run the biggest discretionary budget of any government department." Andrew Lansley said he had "hugely valued" Douglas for his "advice and guidance". Douglas was in charge of NHS money – and policy – during Lansley and Hunt's reign, and so was closely allied to their mix of privatisation and cuts.
When he announced his retirement last year, Douglas said he intended to "hang up the spreadsheets and do something completely different", which sounded like he might start a farm in a smallholding or maybe indulge in a round the world-cruise. But no, working for a firm that lobbies the Department of Health for private health firms is different enough to helping run the Department of Health, as far as he is concerned.
Incisive were keen to talk up how Douglas' new job could help them win government work for their clients, "particularly as financial pressures in the NHS continue to build over the coming months". They say, "Incisive Health strives to deliver advice to clients – and outcomes – that cannot be bettered anywhere in the sector. With Richard on board, we are confident that we are now even better equipped to do so." So, the NHS is struggling, and Incisive have just the guy to help them take advantage of this.
However, in his application to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which polices the revolving door between government and industry, Douglas said that "he will not have contact with his former department or government more generally."
Douglas' application to the Committee suggested he would offer advice on how companies could approach the government for work, instead of directly approaching the government on their behalf. He would be "advising on public affairs strategies for clients" and "improving understanding of the general principles of policy creation and the workings of government and the NHS".
The Committee approved his new job. They said he must not personally lobby government for two years. However, there is simply no mechanism to enforce this ban, which in any case only applies until May 2017.
Incisive Health said Douglas' job as their "Senior Counsel" was a reason companies should pay for their services as "there is no one who understands the NHS better than Richard", because of his Department of Health experience "at the nexus of politics, policy and finances".
The Department of Health said they "do not believe he will have had access to information that could give Incisive Health an unfair advantage" and had "no concerns" about his new job. After years of NHS privatisation, the Department of Health are taking an easygoing attitude to top staff passing through a revolving door from government to the privatisers' lobbyists.
Just to complete the picture of lunches and quiet words, according to official hospitality registers, Ed Jones, one of Jeremy Hunt's special advisers, was taken to lunch last year by Incisive Health. In 2010, predicting that lobbying was the "next big scandal waiting to happen", Cameron promised that "we must be the party that sorts all this out." However, there has been very little change to regulations governing lobbying or the revolving door between government and industry. As it stands, Douglas' move doesn't break a single rule.
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