NHS chief Sir David Nicholson has apologised for tweeting a spoof video which ridiculed one his top officials, poked fun at Jeremy Hunt and portrayed the health service’s controversial GP data extraction scheme as a conspiracy to make “millions and millions” from Big Pharma.
The video, a scene from the film Downfall and given alternative subtitles, depicts Tim Kelsey, the architect of the care.data scheme, as Adolf Hitler, and imagines his furious reaction to news that the public are turning against his plans.
Sir David, who will retire as chief executive of NHS England in April, joined Twitter in January and has revealed an unexpected sense of humour in his output so far – but also a tendency to put his foot in it.
His latest tweet caused offence among some and was swiftly deleted. Sir David followed it up with an apology to Mr Kelsey, NHS England’s director for patients and information, adding: “this is what happens when you give an old bloke with an over developed sense of humour new tech you're doing a great job X” [sic].
In the video, the latest in a long line of satirical “Downfall parodies”, Hitler reacts to news that the care.data scheme has run into problems saying “Jeremy Hunt is right behind us.”
His officers respond: “Mr Kelsey: Jeremy Hunt is hiding behind a tree” – a reference to an allegation raised at the Leveson Inquiry that Mr Hunt hid behind a tree to avoid journalists at an evening reception attended by Rupert and James Murdoch.
The Department of Health is understood to be concerned that NHS England has mismanaged the launch of care.data. The scheme, which would see patient records from every GP surgery in the country collected into a central database, was delayed by six months amid concerns that the public had not been adequately informed about it. It has also emerged that medical records have previously been wrongly given to the insurance industry by the NHS.
As Hitler launches into a tirade in the video, the subtitles read: “This was supposed to be easy. People were supposed to give us all their data. We could take it package it up and make millions and millions. Big Pharma have been waiting. The insurance companies have been waiting.”
Previous tweets from Sir David have included an exchange with the operator of a parody account called “Jeremy_Twunt” in which the chief executive of the NHS described himself as “your bit of rough” after being mocked for attending Bristol Polytechnic. He also posted a picture of himself standing outside a Marks and Spencer’s store alongside the words: “First day of my new assignment v excited”, after M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose was appointed to a lead an NHS inquiry.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: "Sir David very much hopes his tweet did not cause any offence, that was not his intention at all.”
Mr Kelsey responded by tweeting: “Ok, my view on the YouTube film: funny but we risk underestimating how important data-sharing is for the NHS. Hitler was not a joke.”