NHS lobby group playing cynical politics game, says Cabinet minister

·4-min read
NHS chiefs claim soaring energy bills will trigger 'humanitarian crisis' this winter
NHS chiefs claim soaring energy bills will trigger 'humanitarian crisis' this winter

An NHS lobbying group has been accused of "cynical politics" by a senior Cabinet minister, after it issued a letter that was highly critical of the Government’s energy policy.

The NHS Confederation letter sent to Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor, accuses the Government of not doing enough to bail out hard-up households facing a huge increase in energy bills.

The letter, signed by the confederation’s chief executive and chairman, claims the Government’s “current policy of providing £400… is not going to be nearly sufficient” and that it risks a “public health emergency”.

But one prominent member of the confederation told The Telegraph he had declined to endorse the letter after it was circulated to members in the days before it was sent.

A senior NHS source said: “I was contacted but did not endorse it. I don’t want to get involved in a national political thing. You have to be very careful not to look as if you are playing politics. There is a danger in NHS bosses putting themselves right in the middle of a political fight at a time when the Tory Party is scratching out its own eyes. It [the letter] is problematic.”

The letter was written by Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation and a former policy adviser to Tony Blair, and its chairman Lord Adebowale, a crossbench peer, “on behalf of NHS leaders”.

On Friday night, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Cabinet minister in charge of government efficiency, said: "The public expects better than cynical politics from an NHS organisation. Thankfully, it appears many NHS bosses have not endorsed this intervention which suggests Mr Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, is freelancing on their behalf for political ends."

The NHS Confederation said the letter was circulated to members prior to publication but did not require each member’s explicit approval for it to be sent on their behalf. It is also unclear how many NHS leaders were on holiday and may not even have seen it before it was made public.

A press release publicising the letter contained endorsements from two NHS trust chairmen, both of them with strong links to the Labour Party. Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, immediately picked up on the letter, arguing that "NHS leaders are absolutely right to raise concerns about the impact on health” of the energy crisis.

But Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, complained that the intervention in the energy debate by the NHS Confederation smacked of “politicisation”.

“Now we have proof positive that although the Conservatives are in Government, it shows the Left still holds great power in these institutions,” he said.

He added: “We keep coming across ex-Blairites and ex-Brownites inhabiting the public space. These public announcements from the NHS Confederation add no value at all to the debate and, given the leadership, smacks of politicisation.”

On Twitter, Mr Taylor defended the letter against allegations it was “too political”, insisting that “our members have emphasised to us” that “greater fuel poverty will drive greater illness… as we prepare for a very tough winter”.

He also denied it was “overtly political” when challenged in a BBC interview.

The NHS Confederation, which is a registered charity, describes itself as a membership body for NHS leaders and its £15 million annual income is partly funded through subscription fees ultimately paid for by the taxpayer. Mr Taylor was appointed chief executive a year ago on a salary of just under £200,000.

'Humanitarian crisis'

In the letter, the confederation warned that health bosses in the UK are "already seeing huge suffering in our local communities because of the cost-of-living crisis" and said that the Government's proposed policy of £400 paid in monthly instalments will not be sufficient. It called on ministers to safeguard households who cannot absorb energy prices rising by up to 82 per cent.

In an accompanying statement, Mr Taylor said the country “is facing a humanitarian crisis”, adding. "Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions.

"This in turn could lead to outbreaks of illness and sickness around the country and widen health inequalities, worsen children's life chances, and leave an indelible scar on local communities."

He said that “NHS leaders have made this unprecedented intervention as they know that fuel poverty will inevitably lead to significant extra demand on what are already very fragile services”.

A Government spokesman said: "We know that rising prices are affecting how far people's incomes go, which is why we have taken action to help households with £37 billion worth of support, which includes targeted support to help people through the difficult winter ahead.”

The spokesman said that eight million “of the most vulnerable households” will receive £1,200 extra support while “everyone will receive £400 over the winter to help with energy bills”.

The NHS Confederation said the letter was sent to members prior to its publication “but was then signed by Victor and Matthew as their representatives” and that “as such represents the views of members”.