DOCTORS’ leaders yesterday spoke out against appointing former Tory health minister Lord Prior as Chair of NHS England. Prior, who served in the Tory government between 2015 and 2017, has been named preferred candidate to succeed Sir Malcolm Grant in the role.
Prior’s emergence as the May government’s chosen candidate to be its next chair, a decision signed off by current health secretary Matt Hancock, comes less than a year after fellow Tory peer Baroness Harding was named as chair of NHS Improvement.
A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesperson told News Line: ‘The BMA has repeatedly warned of the dangers of over-politicising the NHS. ‘The appointment of Lord Prior, should it go ahead, sends entirely the wrong message both to the medical profession and to patients who want an NHS working in their best interests not in the interests of party politics. ‘We need an NHS that is run by an independent board free of party political interference and therefore the government should seriously reconsider their choice of chair for NHS England.’
Labour questioned the choice of the former Tory health minister to be the next chair of NHS England. Former GP Stockton South MP Paul Williams, a Labour member of the House of Commons health committee, said he had ‘serious concerns’ over the peer’s independence.
He said the appointments, of Prior and Harding constituted a ‘massive politicisation of the institutions intended to take politics out of the day-to-day running of the NHS’.
Dr Williams added that Health Secretary Hancock appeared to be wanting to ‘recruit another politician to run the NHS for him’.
The former GP stressed: ‘Lord Prior has got experience, he has got expertise but he is a politician. He is a politician in what should be a non-political role.’ The Labour MP said the peer would face ‘tough questions’ at a pre-appointment hearing of the cross-party health select committee next week.
Prior, the son of the late Tory cabinet minister Jim Prior, served as a junior minister in the health department under Hancock’s predecessor Jeremy Hunt. He is currently chair of University College London Hospital NHS Trust, and has served as a former chair of the Care Quality Commission and the Norfolk and Norwich University NHS Foundation Trust.
In a statement, health secretary Hancock said he believed Lord Prior was ‘enormously qualified’ for the job and looked forward to working closely with him.
Retired surgeon and BMA member Anna Athow commented: ‘Putting Prior in charge of the NHS is like putting a fox in charge of the hen house. His job will be to privatise the NHS. ‘The BMA must tell the government that it will actively oppose any such appointment.’