Former chief scientist accuses Boris Johnson of privatising NHS 'by stealth'

Sir David King, arrives to give evidence at the City of London Magistrates' Court on behalf of prote

Former SAGE adviser Sir David King has accused No 10 of privatising the NHS 'by stealth' - Credit: PA

A former government chief scientist has accused Boris Johnson of privatising the NHS "by stealth" and operating a "chumocracy" which he claims led to the mishandling of the Covid pandemic.

Sir David King said he was "extremely worried about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic" and the way in which public money was distributed to private sector companies "without due process", in an interview with the Guardian.

King contrasted the success of the vaccination programme, carried out by the NHS, with the failure of the government’s test-and-trace operation, which has been contracted out to private companies.

"The operation to roll out vaccination has been extremely successful, it was driven through entirely by our truly national health service and GP service – just amazing,” he said. "Yet we have persisted with this money for test and trace, given without competition, without due process … I am really worried about democratic processes being ignored."

He said: "This is a so-called chumocracy, that has been a phrase used, and that is what it looks like I’m afraid: it is a chumocracy."

King heads the independent alternative to the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) group, which advises on the pandemic. King also has a track record working with governments of all stripes.

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He was appointed chief scientific adviser under Tony Blair in 2000, serving until 2008, and under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was appointed chair of the Future Cities Catapult, launched in 2013. He also worked under Johnson as foreign secretary during Theresa May’s premiership.

King also questioned the argument that No 10 had to act quickly to counter the pandemic and was right to ignore normal processes in doing so.

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"People say it’s a crisis – I say the government is using a crisis to privatise sections of the healthcare system in a way that is completely wrong," he said. "A fraction of this money going to public services would have been far better results."

He accused the government of acting deliberately to carry out ideological aims of privatising the NHS. "It is slipping this through in the name of a pandemic – effectively, to privatise the NHS by stealth," he said. "I’m quite sure this has not been an accident, I’m quite sure this has been the plan, there has been clarity in this process. The audacity has been amazing."

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