Former NHS chief to join Bupa board

SIR DUNCAN NICHOL, the former National Health Service chief executive, confirmed last night that he is to join the board of the private health group Bupa.

The appointment, coming only six months after Sir Duncan left his Whitehall post, will revive claims by Labour and opponents of the Government's health reforms, that a hidden agenda of privatised health care is being operated by the government.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said Sir Duncan's appointment was the 'clearest sign yet that the Government is blurring the distinction between a public NHS and private health care'.

Sir Duncan, 53, who takes up his post on 1 October, will bring to the board wide experience of NHS management. He was NHS chief executive from 1989 until March.

Bupa is the leading private health insurer, with 46 per cent of a market estimated to be worth pounds 1.6bn.

Mr Blunkett, expressing widely held concerns voiced by opponents of the recent NHS reforms who fear a 'hidden agenda' of covert privatisation, added: 'The Government's agenda is to increase the involvement and role of private health care at every opportunity.'

Sir Duncan, who said his appointment had been cleared at Cabinet level in line with accepted procedure, added: 'There is no hidden agenda. That is rubbish. As far as I'm concerned the NHS will remain a public resource.' Potential conflicts of interests with the NHS on the Bupa board would not occur.

Regardless, the main concern over Sir Duncan's appointment will be the knowledge he brings on the potential for the private sector to 'buy' NHS contracts placed on the open market.

Mr Blunkett said he would seek a statement from Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health.

'Climate of fear', page 5

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