NHS England digital head Bauer exits for Swedish medical app Kry, but not without controversy

Juliet Bauer, who is departing NHS England’s chief digital officer post after 2 1/2 years for the sunnier shores of Appdom, has apparently also taken a splash in hot water on her way there. She is joining Sweden’s Kry (Livi in the UK), a GP telemedicine app available in Europe and the UK in an undisclosed product executive role. Livi offers NHS and private services for video consults, including a current contract with GPs in Surrey. 

The event that has sparked the controversy was Ms. Bauer’s article on digital health in the Times (paywalled) on 14 Jan praising Kry/Livi without disclosing publicly that she is joining the company in April. She stated that data provided by Kry/Livi showed “higher levels of patient and GP satisfaction while at the same time delivering higher patient safety and medical quality as well as crucial improvements in lowering prescription of antibiotics.” To add to it, the claim was not backed up with details nor, in reports, did the article cite other medical companies.

‘Brazen,’ ‘jaw-droppingly inappropriate’, and a ‘puff piece’ was how the article was characterized by Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee. Even Simon Eccles, her soon-to-be-former colleague who is CIO of health and care, chimed in that the article was a mistake by a colleague he called ‘fantastic’ in her advocacy for centering NHS around the individual. Ms. Bauer worked on the recently disclosed 10 year plan, but the key leaders were Dr. Eccles, NHS Digital boss Sarah Wilkinson, West Suffolk Hospitals Foundation Trust head Steve Dunn, and NHS England deputy chief exec Matthew Swindells. Dr. Eccles to the press dismissed any influence by her towards her future imployer.

Ms. Bauer was NHS England’s first chief digital officer, starting in July 2016. She was responsible for patient-focused digital dubbed Empower the Person, including NHS 111, the app library, and the NHS app. According to the internal memo obtained by HSJ revealing her departure, it is with ‘with immediate effect’. Replacing her from 4 February on an interim basis will be Tara Donnelly, the current chief executive of the Health Innovation Network.

The brazenly revolving door of civil servants to companies and vice versa is common on both sides of the Atlantic. Former senators, congressmen, and generals–and those well down the greasy pole–find new employment at lobbyists, companies and industries they used to oversee. Influence and connections, as well as expertise, count for a great deal in the real world. In the private sector, sometimes there are non-solicit or non-compete (the latter unenforceable in many states) agreements, with exceptions for highly regulated and conflict-prone businesses, such as insurers.

Conflict of interest? Too close for comfort to this Editor. In a publicly-funded, contract based healthcare system like the UK’s, the departure of Ms. Bauer for a company contracting with the NHS, without being specifically excluded from dealing with the NHS–in fact, in her departure statement saying quite the opposite–has raised the spectre of conflict of interest. This Editor would also question her judgment in accepting the position without said exclusion–but that was likely the reason she was hired! Will this go away soon? Probably not for at least a week! More in the Financial Times (may be paywalled), The Register 11 Jan and 22 Jan, iNews

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