corona-crisis crony capitalism

Matt Hancock’s temporary NHSX chief still in charge, a year on
Solomon Hughes, David Pegg, Groan, Nov 29 2020

Matthew Gould has been friends with Hancock’s former boss George Osborne since school.
Photograph: NHS Digital

The chief executive of an organisation championed by Matt Hancock to promote a “digital transformation” in the NHS remains in post a year after the health secretary appointed him, without interview, on a temporary basis. NHSX has been heavily promoted by Hancock, who created it in 2019 to spur digital change in the health service. During the pandemic he has assigned it high-priority projects as part of the UK’s coronavirus response. Excerpts from a draft Deloitte audit, compiled in January and seen by the Guardian, state that Matthew Gould, a former diplomat and civil servant, was appointed chief executive of NHSX by the health secretary on a “temporary” basis. More than a year later, Gould remains in post and his position has not been publicly advertised. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that Gould’s position “will be advertised shortly” and would be subject to a full and open competition. A senior NHS official said Hancock directed that Gould should be given the top job at the body when it was created. The two men had previously worked together at the culture department, where Gould was digital director while Hancock was culture secretary. Previously the British ambassador to Israel, Gould reportedly rose up the civil service after being tasked with compiling evidence of how Brexit would damage the UK, on the advice of George Osborne. The two men have been friends since they attended St Paul’s school together.

Launched in Jul 2019 to deliver Hancock’s “tech vision” for the health service, NHSX has been entrusted with responsibility for key pillars of the government’s coronavirus response, including the first iteration of a Covid-19 tracing app for mobile phones. It was also tasked with creating a “Covid–19 datastore” to consolidate vast quantities of health data previously spread across multiple divisions of the NHS to assist ministerial decision-making, and has been given responsibility for some of the IT infrastructure surrounding the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations. The uncertain state of the organisation in January, as revealed by the draft audit, raises questions as to why Hancock entrusted essential planks of the government’s coronavirus response to a nascent and untested body. According to the draft audit:

The NHSX CEO was appointed without advertisement in Jul 2019 under temporary arrangements.

National governance arrangements for digital transformation remain confused, despite attempts to clarify them.

Gould reports directly to Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, while also reporting directly to Hancock. A report by parliament’s public accounts committee from earlier this month said:

We are concerned that governance arrangements for NHSX have still not been finalised over a year after it was set up. There is little transparency over its spending and activity.

The chair of NHS Digital, which manages the digital infrastructure of the health service, has been tasked with overseeing a review of how responsibility for digital transformation is delineated within the various NHS bodies. Laura Wade-Gery, who was appointed as the chair in July this year, has received the support of a team from the consultancy firm McKinsey at a cost of £588k. NHSX was thrust into the national spotlight after being tasked by Hancock with overseeing the creation of the Covid-19 mobile phone app, which would be installed by members of the public on their phones to help track exposure to the virus. A DHSC spokesperson said:

NHSX has played a vital part in the department’s coronavirus response. The creation of NHSX and the appointment of the chief executive followed due civil service process, with Mr Gould’s appointment approved by the civil service senior leadership committee.

Nadhim Zahawi appointed minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Mattha Busby, Groan, Nov 28 2020

Nadhim Zahawi, a co-founder of the polling firm YouGov, is the MP for Stratford-on-Avon.
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Nadhim Zahawi, a minister for business and industry, has been placed in charge of overseeing the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine, Downing Street has announced. No 10 said the Stratford-on-Avon MP would take on the role until at least next summer. Zahari will temporarily relinquish responsibility for most areas of his brief at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Under the interim arrangement, he will serve as a joint minister between BEIS and the Department for Health and Social Care. Zahawi said he was delighted to be appointed to the role. He tweeted:

The health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, tweeted:

Hospitals in England have been told to prepare for the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in as little as nine days’ time, with NHS workers expected to be the first to receive the jab. NHS bosses said hospitals could expect to receive their first deliveries of a vaccine produced by the US drugmaker Pfizer and the German biotech firm BioNTech as soon as Dec 7, with regulatory approval anticipated within days. The UK has placed orders for 100m doses of the Oxford vaccine, enough to vaccinate most of the population, with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It also has orders for 40m doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to have a 95% efficacy rate, and 5m doses from US firm Moderna, which trials suggest is similarly effective. The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said:

Only days ago Labour called for a vaccines minister to oversee the huge logistical challenge of widespread vaccination. We now need a mass public health campaign urging uptake of the vaccine, alongside ensuring the resources are in place for GPs and other health professionals to rapidly roll this out as soon as possible.

Zahawi, a businessman and co-founder of the polling firm YouGov, said this week he was concerned that his Stratford-on-Avon constituency had been placed in the third tier of restrictions. He said according to local press:

I am hugely disappointed and sad that Warwickshire will be moving into tier 3 next week, in particular because of the effect this will have on our hospitality and tourism industries, who have already been through so much this year. It seems that the high numbers of infections, especially among those over 60, and hospitalisations in the north of the county have counted against us. I understand the concerns raised by large numbers of constituents about why the restrictions in Stratford-on-Avon are being affected by factors in areas further away from us than from our immediate neighbours, such as Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, both of whom will be moving into tier 2 next week. The whole county therefore needs to work together to drive down infections so we can follow our neighbouring counties into tier 2 when these restrictions are reviewed in a fortnight’s time. I will do all I can to push and make the case for this to happen.

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