Jeremy Hunt caught on a secretive trip to the US and it looks like bad news for our NHS [TWEETS]

Jeremy Hunt Surprised NHS
Steve Topple

On Friday 3 February, as the public was distracted by a shortage of vegetables from Spain, Jeremy Hunt was busy breaking bread with private healthcare companies in the US. The Health Secretary was on a trip to “discuss the close links between the US and the UK health sectors”. But was he really there to advertise the NHS to US businesses? The signs were not good…

Take it down low… 

Hunt’s trip was in conjunction with the British Consulate in New York, and was kept fairly low-key; not even the UK government’s website announced it. The only indication he was in New York was through the British Consulate’s Twitter account. But from what we do know, he had a fairly busy schedule.

The Health Secretary was a guest speaker at the Patient Safety Movement (PSM) 5th Annual World Patient Safety, Science & Technology Summit. Politicians, people from the private healthcare industry, and medical professionals were in attendance. Also present was NHS Director of Patient Safety Mike Durkin. The PSM has not made Hunt’s speech public. But delegates at the summit tweeted excerpts of it:

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An empire state of mind?

One of the main topics of the summit was the open sharing of patient information. As one keynote speaker said, healthcare providers need “unfettered access” to patient data. And the thrust of the debate was that healthcare companies should have patients’ personal data, en masse.

But the sharing of people’s personal data with private companies has already sparked controversy in the UK. As The Canary previously reported, the Tories have already sold masses of NHS patient data to Google DeepMind to manage. And as Wired noted:

It’s not just a question of what could potentially go wrong… what has not been discussed, or at least made clear, is whether this move will benefit patients more than Google. DeepMind’s work is shrouded in secrecy and in a way this has given Google the capability to create a monopoly over healthcare data analytics… did the patients sign up for this?

Mo’ money, mo’ problems… 

Joe Kiani, CEO of US healthcare technology company Masimo, founded the PSM. The company already has contracts within the NHS for the supply of equipment. The conference itself was sponsored by private healthcare companies such as Cercacor (a subsidiary of Masimo), Dräger, and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. All three companies have the same multinational investment management group as a major shareholder: Vanguard, one of the biggest corporations in the world. And both Dräger and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals have NHS contracts.

Hunt was accompanied on the trip by Antonia Romeo. She is the Tories’ new Permanent Secretary for the Department for International Trade (DIT). Romeo is also currently Her Majesty’s Consul General and Director General, Economic and Commercial Affairs USA, where she is responsible for the economic and trade relationship between the UK and US. But it’s her other role that may raise eyebrows in relation to the NHS.

Big p*mpin’…?

Romeo is a member of the International Advisory Board of BritishAmerican Business (BAB). The group is a thinktank of business, media and political leaders. Chairman of BAB Sir Martin Sorrell, said BAB:

is the preeminent transatlantic business organization which helps companies build their businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. As a member of its influential international Advisory Board with 100 other Chairmen and CEOs of leading companies, it would seem I am not alone in wanting to support the valuable work of BritishAmerican Business.

Other members of BAB include the heads of banks such as Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays; chairs of investment management companies like Aberdeen Asset Management and Goldman Sachs; oil companies like BP and Exxon; media organisations like the BBC, Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox; military-related companies like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, and representatives from both the London and New York Stock Exchanges.

But private healthcare giants like Richard Branson’s Virgin and Pfizer also sit on the BAB. As The Canary has repeatedly documented, the Conservative Party keeps selling chunks of the NHS to Branson.

It is unclear what Romeo meant by “Innovation in operating model = crucial”:

Some social media users were suspicious of Hunt’s trip:

Can’t knock the hustle… 

The Canary contacted the Department of Health (DoH) regarding Hunt’s trip. No one was available for comment.

NHS campaigner Peter Stefanovic told The Canary:

Because of Hunt the NHS is facing a crisis in moral, funding, and staffing and social and mental health services are at the point of collapse. We have patients dying on hospital trollies and he thinks he’s competent to lecture the Americans on Patient safety. If it wasn’t so laughable I would cry.

Watch Stefanovic’s video on Hunt’s visit to the US:

It’s concerning that the Health Secretary appears to be attending meetings with little public scrutiny. But what is of more concern is the individuals and groups he was with. And with Theresa May implying that the NHS could be part of a US-UK trade deal when she met with Donald Trump, the future of our health service is looking increasingly worrying.

Update 12.15pm 7 February: Watch The Canary’s take on Jeremy Hunt’s video message:

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