NHSX staff warned about conflicts of interest during Covid-19 crisis

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Contractors at NHSX have been warned the “immediate crisis” of Covid-19 does not negate due process surrounding conflicts of interest and anyone found exploiting their position would be “asked to leave immediately”.

“If we found a conflict has been exploited for personal or corporate gain, the contractor or company would be asked to leave immediately,” NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould wrote in an email to staff.

The email, seen by Digital Health News, said the organisation needs to “carefully manage” the challenges that arise from working with private contractors.

Speaking of the “exceptional work” completed by the organisation during the coronavirus crisis, Gould wrote: “We have brought in a number of experts from the private sector who have given us new capabilities, skills and capacity.

“This has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. But we also need to carefully manage the challenges associated with working so closely with contractors.”

The email reminds staff that all contractors must have completed a conflict of interest form and need to tell their NHSX manager whenever they’re involved in the selection of a product “which they or their company have an interest or relationship”.

A spokesperson for NHSX said the memo was “just a reminder of good practice everyone should be following” and that no incident had prompted the decision to send the email.

It does not divulge if any such conflicts of interest have occurred, but a well-placed source has suggested an example of concerns that have been raised included the flow of information to digital GP provider Push Doctor.

A spokesperson for Push Doctor said: “Push Doctor currently, and have in the past, worked with ex-NHS staff.

“At no time have these staff members shared any confidential information with us or anything that is outside of the public domain, nor have we sought any information from them at any point.”

Gould encouraged staff who believe a conflict of interest may have occurred in current and past decisions to raise it with their manager, or “to me personally if necessary”.

“I hope these procedures will never be needed and that we can continue to do great work together. But please do not think that the immediate crisis means a suspension of the need for high standard and robust, defensible decision-making,” he wrote.

NHSX was asked for comment on a number of questions, including what the conflict of interests entail and if there had been instances of private contractors being involved in the selection of a product without informing their manager.

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