08 March 2023

Health committee chair faces calls to step down over lobbying claims

08 March 2023

A senior Tory MP is facing calls to step down as chairman of the Commons Health Committee following claims he lobbied the head of the NHS on behalf of a firm for which he was working as a paid consultant.

Steve Brine, a former health minister, complained that he had been “trying for months” to persuade the NHS to hire anaesthetists through the recruitment company Remedium, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The details are revealed in the latest tranche of leaked Whatsapp messages from former health secretary Matt Hancock to be published by the paper.

The Liberal Democrats said the disclosure raised “serious questions” about his conduct and called on him to step aside from chairing the Health Committee while the claims were investigated.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Brine contacted Michael Gove – then the Cabinet Office minister – in early 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, seeking his help after he had tried to raise the issue with NHS England chief executive Simon (now Lord) Stevens.

In a message to Mr Gove he wrote: “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.

“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?”

On February 2, Mr Gove forwarded the message to Mr Hancock who replied: “Weird – he hasn’t texted me”. He added a short time later: “This is already in hand. Thanks for pinging on”.

According to the Telegraph, Remedium had been paying Mr Brine £1,600 for eight hours’ work each month since July 2020 – an arrangement that continued until the end of December 2021.

Under Parliament’s rules, MPs are not allowed to lobby for any organisation they are being paid by for six months after their last remuneration.

It was a breach of this ban on paid lobbying which led to the resignation of former Tory minister Owen Paterson in 2021.

In addition, under Government rules former ministers are banned from using contacts from their time in government to lobby for two years after leaving office.

In response, Mr Brine told the Telegraph: “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.”

However Lib Dem health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said he should immediately step down from the Health Committee to allow an independent investigation to take place.

“He cannot be in post whilst these allegations hang over his head,” she said.

“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.”

The PA news agency has approached Mr Brine for comment.

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