A senior Tory MP lobbied the head of the NHS on behalf of a firm paying him £1,600 a month, leaked WhatsApp messages suggest.
Steve Brine, the chairman of the Health Select Committee, said in a text to Michael Gove that he had been “trying for months” to convince the health service to hire anaesthetists through Remedium, a recruitment company he worked for.
The messages, revealed as part of the Telegraph’s “lockdown files”, have been described as “yet another Conservative scandal” and have prompted calls for him to step down.
According to the newspaper, Mr Brine contacted Simon Stevens, then chief of NHS England as well as the Department of Health, in February 2021, when the nation was in its third national lockdown.
The message, which was forwarded to then health secretary Matt Hancock by Mr Gove, reportedly said: “Dear Michael… sorry to raise this but having tried the Dept of Health (seemed logical) and the Chief Exec of NHSE (ditto) I am at a loss.
“Long story short, I have been trying for months to help the NHS through a company I am connected with – called ‘Remedium’. They have 50 anaesthetists right now who can be in the country and on the ground in the NHS if someone only said let’s us help. They just want to assist and asked me how they might.
The message adds: “Despite offering this to health and to Simon Stevens I’ve had nothing despite SS telling the press conference last week this is an acute problem, despite the PM telling the Liaison Committee this is his biggest problem etc etc.
“How might I progress this or does the NHS just not need the help? S.”
The MPs’ register of interests shows Remedium began paying Mr Brine £1,600 for eight hours of work each month in July 2020, with the arrangement continuing until the end of December 2021.
The message means the former health minister may have breached advocacy rules set by parliament, which state MPs are not allowed to lobby for an organisation from which they are receiving “a reward” for six months after receiving a payment.
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‘The whole thing stinks’
Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, called the revelation “yet another Conservative scandal”.
She said: “Steve Brine should immediately step down from the Health Select Committee to allow an independent investigation to take place. He cannot be in post whilst these allegations hang over his head.
“These messages suggest Steve Brine was desperate to help his corporate employers whilst the country was pulling together during a pandemic, and leaves him with serious questions to answer.
“Frankly, the whole thing stinks.
“Rishi Sunak should launch an independent investigation into this damning evidence immediately.”
According to the Telegraph, separate messages between Mr Hancock and his team show that Mr Brine’s request was passed to NHS England via Allan Nixon, the health secretary’s special adviser.
Mr Nixon appeared to complain about the volume of requests the Conservative MP had sent to the Department of Health, saying: “Steve’s being a n*b right now and I’ve no idea why. Been chasing my tail trying to sort loads of stuff for him (not least his hospital) and he still acts like this.”
The exchanges are among more than 100,000 messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was given them by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir.
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Sky News has contacted Mr Brine and Remedium for comment.
In a statement provided to the Telegraph, Mr Brine said: “This was about responding in the national interest to an urgent public call from ministers and the NHS in a national crisis even if, ultimately, it led nowhere let alone secure any business for Remedium.”
There remain major unresolved issues around the confluence of money, influence, and power in Westminster – in particular, the question of MPs’ outside interests, or in lay terms, second jobs.
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The debate has been raging for many years, but it came to a head when former prime minister Boris Johnson tried to defend an MP who was found to have broken lobbying rules.
The Owen Patterson scandal sparked a major row over standards in public life, marking the beginning of the end of Mr Johnson’s government.