Greensill lobbying: how did David Cameron target the NHS?

Denis Campbell Health policy editor
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

The NHS has emerged as a key element in the Greensill lobbying and cronyism scandal that is enveloping the Conservative government.

What are the latest developments?

It was revealed on Sunday that David Cameron sought access to the personal details of NHS staff on behalf of the finance company Greensill during lobbying efforts to try to ensure that the health service in England adopted a scheme, developed by the firm, to allow doctors, nurses and other personnel to be paid daily rather than monthly. It involved an app called Earnd, which would, the former prime minister claimed, help improve the wellbeing of the NHS’s workforce.

What was Cameron’s involvement?

The Sunday Times published in full an email Cameron sent on 23 April 2020 to Matthew Gould, the chief executive of NHSX, an arm of the health service charged with promoting digital innovation. He already knew Gould from the latter having worked for the coalition government that Cameron led in 2010-16. Gould was also a schoolfriend of George Osborne, the chancellor in that administration, and Cameron’s closest political ally.

He said that unnamed “people … have contacted me with tech solutions they think might be deployed in the UK to help with the Covid effort”. He then declared his work for Greensill and specifically mentioned “a digital solution (recently rebranded from Greensill Pay to Earnd) which helps with one of the SoS’s [secretary of state’s] and your key priorities: helping all NHS employees’ welfare, morale and wellbeing”.

How did Earnd work?

“This is an app that allows NHS employees to draw their salary earned, not yet paid, in real time using a simple app,” Cameron explained.

“Importantly, it is free for employees and for employers, and Greensill have committed that they will never charge for the service to the NHS and will never sell an employee’s data.”

Were NHS bosses keen?

Cameron told Gould: “As you can imagine [the health secretary] Matt Hancock, [NHS England chair Lord] David Prior, [NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens, as well as many trust CEOs, are extremely positive about this innovative offer.”

He added that Earnd was already in use at London’s Royal Free hospital and that other trusts – including Northumbria, Salford and the Moorfields eye hospital in the capital – were also set to implement it once there was a lull in the battle against Covid.

Why the email generated controversy?

Because Cameron, on behalf of Greensill, said that “our ask is about ESR [the electronic staff record, which contains details of the 1.4m people in England whom the NHS employs directly], as Earnd will be much slicker if it can obtain access to employee data in ESR.”

Gould replied: “We know Greensill, and have been supporters of their offer for the NHS. We will certainly look into the ESR question.”

The Sunday Times reported that “Earnd entered a contract with ESR to supply software that would access personal details of NHS staff to allow claims for early payment to be verified” and also signed a separate deal with NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), which is co-owned by Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, to roll the app out to “all” NHS trusts.

Did the NHS ultimately use Earnd?

Despite Greensill boasting that Earnd would eventually be used across the NHS, only 450 health service personnel from three different trusts began using the app, NHS SBS confirmed to the newspaper. Both Greensill and Earnd went bust last month. The app’s future is unclear.

A Greensill family representative said that Earnd was never meant to make a profit. “Lex is devastated that the Earnd project didn’t succeed”, they said.