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- Today’s ex-fraudster: Director jailed after holding three full-time NHS roles simultaneously
- This week’s podcast from the team: Why the eating disorder care crisis is risking lives
Matt Hancock is a lucky chap – he’s just been gifted a substantial shareholding in a firm which seems to be doing rather well, taking on staff and acquiring new business. He’s done the right thing and declared his ownership of these shares in the register of MPs’ financial interests.
And that would be the end of the matter except that the firm has been entirely owned by his family for some years – something which Mr Hancock had not declared in the register of ministerial interests — and has been on a framework for supplying waste disposal services to the English NHS for the last two years.
There’s no suggestion that Mr Hancock intervened in the normal processes and NHS Shared Business Services has on Friday afternoon said that Topwood Limited has not even earned anything through the framework. But numerous people were happy to point out that this has the appearance of sleaze: shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth tweeted within a few minutes of HSJ’s story going live that it was “shocking but sadly I suspect no one is surprised any more at the cronyism at the heart of this government”.
The ministerial code stresses the responsibility of each minister to decide what action is needed to “avoid a conflict or perception of a conflict” and the register of ministerial interests includes a section for the declaration of relevant interests of ministers’ spouses, partners and close family members. The government says Mr Hancock has followed the relevant rules and asked civil servants for advice.
Yet it has not specifically said whether he sought advice back in 2018, when he was made health secretary, or 2019 when the company got on the NHS framework, or only more recently when he was offered the gift. Not declaring the connection may have been an oversight by Mr Hancock, and likely one he is regretting now.
East Kent on trial
Next week, the Care Quality Commission is taking East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust to court, alleging it failed to meet fundamental standards of care in the treatment of baby Harry Richford and his mother Sarah. Harry died seven days after his birth at the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Hospital in Thanet in 2017.
An independent investigation, led by Bill Kirkup, is also looking into maternity and neonatal services at the trust.
Nearly 200 families have now reported experiences of poor maternity and neonatal care in East Kent, according to Harry’s family.