Sunday, 3 February 2008

Postman's knock

ALAN JOHNSON, the health secretary, has been accused of giving special access to a National Health Service contractor owned by one of the biggest donors to his deputy leadership campaign.

Johnson held a private meeting in his officers with Dr Reg Race of Quality Health, a firm that has been paid millions of pounds to conduct surveys for the NHS. A long-term Labour donor and former MP, Race had earlier given £5,000 to Johnson’s deputy leadership campaign.

Details of the meeting have raised concerns about “cash for access”. They emerged a week after it was disclosed that another of Johnson’s donors had given money to his campaign through his brother-in-law.

Johnson met Race at the Department for Health on November 12, according to questions answered under the Freedom of Information Act. No civil servants were at the meeting and no minutes were kept.

What was said at the meeting has not been made public, but it is known that Race and Johnson discussed Quality Health’s NHS contracts as well as Labour party politics.

Race’s company is one of a select group of “approved contractors” that health trusts must hire to conduct staff and patient surveys. The company, which Race owns with his wife Amanda Moore, has contracts with 320 of the 487 NHS trusts to conduct annual surveys introduced by Labour ministers in 2003.

Race’s £5,000 donation accounted for more than 10% of Johnson’s campaign spending. Nobody gave more to the campaign, in which Johnson came second. Race has also given more than £23,000 to Labour over the past three years.

Johnson’s aides last night denied Race was given preferential treatment and said the donation was given months before Johnson moved to the Department of Health last summer.

However, businesses competing with Quality Health for contracts said they had never had the opportunity to meet a health secretary.

“It is unheard of,” said the chief executive of one such firm. “It just does not happen.”

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