Andy Cowper on Matt Hancock’s push to create NHSX, a new digital unit in government

I think that I have finally worked out why I don’t warm to Secretary Of State For The Time Being ‘Appless Matt ‘Ancock.

It isn’t because he is a Tory: Jeremy Hunt was one of those, and ended up being on balance, not a bad health secretary, given the prevailing circumstances.

It isn’t because he has the demeanour of a boy sent to do a man’s job, as his achingly painful appearance on yesterday’s Marr BBC TV show again proved.

And it isn’t because he’s the funniest Health But Social Care Secretary of the 21st century, eclipsing even the madcap antics of dear old Lord Lansley. Which takes some doing.

I actually think that if politicians are going to do lots of stupid things, they’d better at least also be funny. This is why we still mourn the absence from front-line politics of the Prime Minister Across The Water, the splendid Simon Burns. Burns was funny – on occasion, even intentionally so; had great hair; blatantly love-hated Westminster politics; and is David Bowie’s cousin. Now that was political greatness, I am sure you’ll agree.

The fundamental concern I have about The Appman, apart from his chronic Babylon Tourette’s, his whole NHSX bullshit (see below) and his overall ‘ha-ha-whoops-I’m-terrifyingly-out-of-my-depth’ demeanour is this.

I get the strong impression that he is the kind of man who likes meetings.

And when I say “likes meetings”, I don’t mean “can tolerate them with reasonable grace”. Nor ”chairs them crisply and stops bullshitters dead in their tracks”.

No. You know the kind of horrorshow I mean. Someone who actually, viscerally enjoys meetings. The kind of person who would say “that was a really good meeting”. Or “I think we should pick this up in another meeting”.

Yes. He seems like One Of Them. The man comes across to me as a meetingophile.

Matt’s too NHSXy for his party

The latest dose of joy is my colleague Ben Heather’s revelation that ‘Appless ‘Ancock wants to create a new digital unit to run NHS matters digital.

Ben’s story outlines ‘Ancock’s aspiration for “a new digital unit in government – labelled “NHSX” – which would give him more direct oversight of national strategy currently controlled by NHS England … if it proceeds, the new unit would represent a major shake-up of how the multibillion-pound digital transformation programme was managed and delivered.

“If it does proceed, NHSX would host the lead managers for about 40 national digital transformation projects, most of whom are currently employed by NHS England… the health and social care secretary wants NHSX to be based in the Department of Health and Social Care, under a director general”.

NHSX. Yes, really.

Ben’s story outlines that the system currently has an architecture and a strategy for digital change. ‘Apppless ‘Ancock’s apparent objection is that he is not in charge.

Nope. Indeed Mr ‘Ancock isn’t: that’s well-spotted. If he casts his memory back, he will recall consistently voting for a thing called the 2012 Health And Social Care Act, which decided precisely that. What goes around, comes around.

Nolan Principles and practices

In and around the NHS tech-strokers’ sector, there has been lively discussion this week about the NHS Commissioning Board’s head of digital Juliet Bauer, who is off directly to a job with GP video-consultation provider Livi.

It was heightened when Ms Bauer wrote this digital puff piece for The Times, which specifically namechecks her future employer.

While failing to disclose that she was going to work for them.


This Times article was unbeknown to the NHS Commissioning Board, whose statement to IT specialist website The Register said “this article was written without NHS England’s approval and we’ve therefore asked for it to be removed.” It has not been removed. It is going some for a senior NHS Commissioning Board director to be writing editorial pieces for The Times in this way without letting the organisation know.

If that is within the contract, the HR function is abysmal. If it is in breach of contract, the NHS Commissioning Board ought to do something about it.

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier was rightly up in arms, telling the FT that “this revolving door of senior officials going into businesses they have worked with has long been an issue but this is brazen… It’s jaw-droppingly inappropriate.”

As the NHS’s chief satirist Julian Patterson wittily observed on Twitter, Ms Bauer’s understanding of the Nolan principles might have been confused with her recollections of the 1970s singing troupe The Nolan Sisters.

Particularly by their 1980 hit ‘Sexy Music’.

But this isn’t about the music, more’s the pity. The tech-frotting fraternity and sorority are about the money.

Grubby, isn’t it? You NHSXy things.