Private health tycoons have wined and dined senior ministers while cashing in on NHS contracts
12 January 2023, 11.02pm
Private health firms have donated more than £800,000 to the Conservative Party over the past ten years, openDemocracy can reveal.
This includes companies run by wealthy tycoons who have wined and dined former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May and other senior ministers.
The finding comes as the government hands out more NHS contracts to the private sector in a bid to tackle the backlog in the health service.
The British Medical Association has warned that relying on the private sector threatens the “sustainability of the NHS”, which has suffered from “a decade of underinvestment”.
Now, an investigation by openDemocracy reveals how Rishi Sunak’s party has received at least £800,000 from more than 35 private health and social care businesses. The true figure could be even higher because donors do not have to declare their field of work, meaning some may have flown under the radar.
And this is on top of huge personal donations from some of the business moguls behind these private healthcare companies.
The Conservative Friends of the NHS is a group of Tory-voting doctors and health professionals who claim to support the NHS. The group’s president is health minister Maria Caufield and it has hosted stalls at the Conservative Party’s annual conference.
Chohan is a private health tycoon who set up a portfolio of medical and nursing businesses in London. One of his firms, West End Medical Practice Limited, has donated more than £198,000 to the Tories since 2019 – making it one of the sector’s biggest political donors.
As chair of the Conservative Friends of the NHS, Chohan has met with senior politicians, including Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Nadhim Zahawi. Before Christmas, in the midst of the ongoing NHS crisis, he also attended a “meaningful” meeting at Number 10.
Despite the group’s claim to support the NHS, it has repeatedly championed a two-tier health system on Twitter, saying the private sector “should be applauded for reducing demand for the NHS”. In other tweets it has advocated health insurance and argued that “all high taxpayers must have [private health] insurance by 2025”.
Experts say reliance on private health firms is creating a system in which poorer people who cannot afford to go private are “left to put up or shut up”.
During the pandemic, Chohan – who previously donated to Labour before switching – came under scrutiny over two private firms he ran with his son that sold Covid tests. Reports said customers were charged between £80-£200 for the PCR tests, but many complained about lost samples and refused refunds.
Another Conservative Party donor is Genix Healthcare Ltd, which is part of a group of private dental clinics that makes the “majority” of its £6.6m income from NHS contracts.
The company was set up in response to the “severe shortage of NHS dentists” and says it aims to become the “dental corporate of choice for the NHS”.
Genix Healthcare has bankrolled the Tories with donations worth more than £158,000 since 2015, including cash and sponsorships.
This includes a £20,000 donation to Jeremy Hunt in 2019, the year after he resigned as health secretary.
Care homes and GPs
The majority of Tory donations from the private health sector have come since the pandemic began in 2020.
One such donor, Doctor Care Anywhere Group PLC, has given the party more than £37,000 in the past two years – and reportedly spent £1,000 on a ticket for government minister Paul Scully to watch a cricket match at Lord’s.
The company, which charges up to £60 for a single telephone call with a GP, raked in £25m revenue in the 2021 financial year.
Yet its records from last year say that a “severe shortage of GPs in the UK” has meant the firm’s “clinician capacity is currently insufficient to meet patient demand”. Bosses said they would not try to incentivise staff with additional pay rises because this would impact on Doctor Care Anywhere’s “cash generation”.
The Conservatives also accepted £28,000 worth of donations from Advinia Health Care Limited, which operates a network of 36 care homes across the UK.
The company has earned huge amounts of public money and boasted almost £96m in turnover in its latest financial accounts. From this, Advinia took more than £1.8m of pre-tax profits.
“Approximately 80% of group revenues came from state-funded Local Authorities and CCGs [clinical commissioning groups],” the company’s 2021 report says, adding that the taxpayer money “provide[s] the group steady, secure and timely cash inflows”.
But despite its healthy finances, Advinia’s founder and chairman, Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, recently called on Sunak to increase the government’s financial support to private care homes.
The Tories continued to accept donations from Advinia Health Care even after questions were raised about its finances. In 2019, the Guardian reported that the company had been placed under investigation by regulators over concerns about its cash flow and financial management. It was also claimed that bosses had refused to agree to an independent audit of its finances.
The true owners of Advinia Health Care remain unknown, thanks to the company’s financial structure. Records say the ultimate controlling party is the ‘Paraman Trust Settlement’, but there is no explanation of what this is, where it is located, or who is behind it. There is no trace of the Paraman Trust Settlement on the UK’s official company registry and little mention of it anywhere online.
Money donated by companies like Advinia Health Care comes on top extra cash that has been personally given by wealthy business tycoons in the health sector.
They include Dolar Popat, who has donated more than £188,000 in the past decade. Popat used to run a care home business and was appointed to the House of Lords in 2010.
John Nash is another former private healthcare tycoon who has donated to the Conservatives and been made a peer. Nash is the former chairman of Care UK, which operates 150 residential homes for elderly people.
Another firm, Babylon Healthcare, which provides GP consultations over the phone, also came under the spotlight recently amid reports that shareholders had donated to the former health secretary, Matt Hancock.
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