Matthew Hancock, the new Health Sec has received £30,000 in private donations, since 2010, from the chairman of IEA, a free market think tank that advocates the abolition of the NHS, raising questions of a conflict of interest.
According to parliament's Register of Members' Financial Interests, the newly-appointed minister in charge of the NHS has taken yearly payments from Neil Record, chairman of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) since 2015, totalling £30k, since Hancock became Tory MP for West Suffolk in 2010. Record had previously sat on the right wing think tank's board for seven years until his appointment as chairman.
The majority of the eight payments made by Record to Hancock were £4,000 each and registered as payments towards "support of my parliamentary work and travel costs in my capacity as an MP." In 2016, the Independent reported that Record had revealed he was supporting Hancock because he was of the view that he has "a very sound political philosophy," and that the financial donations helped to assist the Tory MP in the running of his staff.
The IEA's publications on the NHS show they are dominated by calls for "major structural reform", concluding: "The NHS is not worth defending." They also make clear that they want an insurance-based healthcare system in the UK, open to private insurance firms from which to profit.
Kate Andrews, IEA's News editor, has made a string of media appearances in recent months to dismiss any notion that the NHS should be celebrated – frequently claiming that it requires major structural reform. NHS advocates have questioned whether an American representative of a company that refuses to say who funds its work, can make impartial critiques about the UK's healthcare system.
In a video she made for the BBC's ‘Daily Politics’ show in February, she
IEA's Research Director Dr Jamie Whyte has also voiced his displeasure at the NHS in a
for Sky News, insisting that its downfall is the "Soviet method" approach it adopts, that has "no real customers who are signalling their preferences."
"One of the biggest problems with the NHS is that it's provided in a 'Soviet style' - that's to say, it's controlled by the state, and there are no real customers."— IEA (@iealondon) July 2, 2018
Our Jamie Whyte on #NHS70 pic.twitter.com/uKbmuwNd1K
According to Transparify, which provides global ratings of the financial transparency of major think tanks around the world, IEA is one of the least transparent think tanks in the UK with a score of 0, meaning it's highly opaque.
So who exactly funds the IEA? Well in 2013, the Guardian revealed that they had received tens of thousands of pounds in funding from the world's biggest tobacco companies, while issuing statements to assert their opposition against public health measures on tobacco.
Mark Littlewood, IEA director claimed at the time that moves towards plain packaging of tobacco was the "latest ludicrous move in the unending, ceaseless, bullying war against those who choose to produce and consume tobacco."
Tobacco firms such as Philip Morris International have admitted they are members of IEA, but have failed to disclose details of funds donated. A spokesman for the Marlboro manufacturer in 2013, said: "We confirm that we are a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs, but cannot provide you with any further details."
There are also claims made by the National Health Action Party that IEA receives funding from the US through the 'American Friends of the IEA,' which they say exists solely to funnel money to the IEA in London. According to the interactive database, Conservative Transparency, the IEA received $596,540 from American Friends of the IEA between 1996 and 2013.
The personal relationship between Hancock and IEA Chairman Record may exacerbate the fears of those worried about the future of the NHS and its transformation into a multitude of health bodies, which many medical professionals see as the opening up to the free market.
READ MORE: NHS reaches grand old age of 70 as campaigners lose fight against 'Trojan horse for privatization'
Personal financial donations to ministers are nothing new, but in the context of a new minister taking on the responsibility of looking after Britain's cherished healthcare asset, an advocate for abolishing the NHS may be perceived as an inappropriate donor for Hancock.
He replaced Jeremy Hunt as health secretary on Monday, following a spate of ministerial resignations which included big hitters David Davis and Boris Johnson quitting over disputes with Prime Minister Theresa May regarding her Brexit proposals.
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