Hands off my NHS: Who is Dido Harding and what is 1828?

Thank you signs for NHS

Last week, Matt Hancock announced that Public Health England would be abolished, citing its failure to handle the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for its replacement.

In its place, the new National Institute for Health Protection will take over the work that has already been set motion to tackle COVID-19. Set to be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the country’s own organisation dealing with pandemic response, it is now at the forefront of the United Kingdom’s handling of what many predict to be a brutal second wave.

However, unlike the presidents of the Robert Koch Institute, who are microbiologists and specialists in infectious epidemiology respectively, the British body will be headed by The Baroness of Winscombe, Dido Harding. A former Chief Executive of the TalkTalk group, with absolutely no background in the medical profession, apart from a post within Government’s NHS Improvement scheme that she has held since 2017.

The National Institute for Health Protection

A report published in The Telegraph earlier this week confirmed that the NHS Test and Trace scheme, set up during the current COVID-19 pandemic, will merge with the pandemic response work of PHE and the Joint Biosecurity Team to create the new National Institute for Health Protection.

Such changes would come into effect in September, but the hand-over process would not be fully completed until spring 2021. It is said it will report directly to the Health and Care Secretary and “support the clinical leadership of the 4 UK chief medical officers”.

Why has PHE been abolished?

Public Health England has seen itself become Westminster’s scapegoat for the failings which took place in the first weeks of the pandemic. Hancock had assured that it was “the best thing to do right now”, despite warnings from several major healthcare advisory bodies that it would lead to needless disruption in an already risky period for the UK’s public health.

Many believe such change is a purely political move from the Health Secretary, given he is on record as having said that big reorganisations should be “the last port of call“.

When asked if it would cause disruption to the current battle against COVID-19, Hancock told Radio 4 that “I don’t accept that there will be disruption … We are bringing together under a single leadership these functions. Of course there will be the organisational change element of it.”

Harding’s Test and Trace programme

Chief Executive of TalkTalk when they were forced to pay a record fine of £400,000 due to a hacking scandal, Dido Harding has been appointed to lead this new organisation through what it set to be an incredibly difficult time for British healthcare services. And her previous experience? After having sat on various boards at Tesco, Asda and the Bank of England, how her career has thus far geared her up for such a monumental (and quite literally life-saving) position is beyond the understanding of many.

An abysmal venture from the offset, Harding’s NHS Test and Trace scheme has fundamentally failed when compared to the “corona taxis” that have swept the German nation, scrupulously finding cases and all those in contact with them. Her 25,000 contact tracers managed to track down 51,524 people who had been exposed to the virus between the end of May and the end of July. This averages at about one tracer finding one infected person per month.

Given that the Office for National Statistics currently estimates that, at the beginning of August, there were more 3,800 new cases of coronavirus every single day in the UK, it would take Dido Harding’s current team roughly 4 months to find one theoretical month’s worth of cases. And when you find out some £10 billion has been spent on this “one case per month per clinician” scheme, it is a set of numbers which barely add up.

“Dido seems to be failing upwards, given that Test and Trace has been a disaster,” summed up one NHS official in The Guardian. Even The Telegraph, the Conservative Party’s diligent propaganda machine, has struggled to make good of the situation.

Government contracts for Government’s contacts

When you find out that David Cameron and Dido Harding studied PPE together at Magdalen College, Oxford, it becomes less surprising that she has had such a quick and easy rise through the Government’s ranks.

In 2014, she first entered the political landscape with an appointment to the House of Lords by her old study buddy, and two years later found herself at the head of the aforementioned “NHS Improvement” group. Precisely what has been done by Harding to improve the NHS remains a mystery, with wait times rising, referrals being delayed and all targets in general being at the absolute worst since they were established.

Accused of cronyism, Hancock continues to insist she is the best person for the job. If you research into Dido Harding, something all the more sinister raises its head when these figures of the NHS’ slow disintegration are laid before you in the form of her husband’s involvement in 1828.

Is 1828 gunning for NHS privatisation?

The 1828 think tank, which Harding’s husband is closely involved in, is an anti-NHS opinion advisory board, who have been calling for a social insurance system and which also demanded for PHE to be abolished. In 2018, The Independent reported that Neil Record, chair of 1828, donated £32,000 to Matt Hancock over a period of eight years, after he won a seat as MP in 2010. 

All it takes is a quick google search and a scroll through the 1828 website to reveal their disdain for the NHS. Rather than blaming its strangulation on the severe budget cuts and various failings caused by various governments, they wish NHS workers to be “set free” from the current framework surrounding treatment administration, claiming that the healthcare system has an “obtuse attitude” to tackling COVID-19.

Stating that their ideal system is one of social insurance modelled on Germany’s healthcare system, the think tank says Government should be “bold and progressive” in their remodelling, following the likes of Switzerland and the Netherlands. Although Germany’s system remains majority funded by state, fears are mounting that any changes would more closely mirror the United State’s eye-wateringly expensive system.

As Toby Young wrote in The Spectator: it is clear Matt Hancock is abolishing Public Health England to save his political career, scrambling to claw back anything from what can only be described as a shameful response to the pandemic. Even if it means employing his friends.