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Revealed: Government Secrecy Over Nightingale Hospital Costs And Private Firms That Built Them

3 28 0
05.06.2020

They were the flagship success in the government’s coronavirus response: 12 brand new hospitals built across the UK in a matter of weeks to ensure the pandemic did not overwhelm the NHS.

But an investigation by HuffPost UK has found a veil of secrecy surrounds the costs to build these trailblazing hospitals, who built them and even who pays for them.

The government and the NHS repeatedly failed to answer questions about which private companies worked on the Nightingales or what multi-million pound contracts were handed out.

Basic information about these contracts has also not been published on public databases where information should appear within 30 days.

When HuffPost UK first approached NHS England we were told information relating to the costs and contractors for the Nightingales would be issued.

But the organisation made an apparent U-turn, backtracking once the information had been sent to its legal team.

Only today at the eleventh hour, faced with the threat of imminent publication of this story, did NHS England concede to release some limited, basic information.

Procurement experts told HuffPost UK the government may still be in breach of the law if contracts are not published within the statutory timeframes.

The apparent secrecy has led to accusations of a lack of transparency over government spending on one of the most significant health infrastructure projects in a generation.

“Failing to open these details up to scrutiny – especially during times of crisis – raises the risk that public money is wasted on overpriced services or awarded to companies with political connections, rather than those best suited to the job,” said Rachel Davies Teka, head of advocacy at Transparency International UK.

Another procurement expert, Dr Mihaly Fazekas of the University of Cambridge, told HuffPost UK: “The government shouldn’t be suppressing this.”

Work on the Nightingale hospitals was carried out in a matter of weeks in March and April this year by companies working alongside the NHS and the military.

The hospitals were put up within existing buildings, such as the ExCeL centre in London and the Manchester Central Convention Complex, and the speed of their construction was unprecedented in the UK.

The extra capacity offered by these pop-up hospitals was also vital in ensuring the NHS did not become overwhelmed by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

But procurement specialists told HuffPost UK that even in a pandemic the government had a duty to be open and transparent about public spending.

Dr Fazekas, who has a PhD in public procurement and corruption risks from Cambridge, where he is a research associate, said it was “surprising” that the government had been unable or unwilling to issue the information.

“I mean, 'unable' – they’re not unable to do it, they just don’t want to, right?” he said. “Because it exists.”

He said the national emergency due to coronavirus may explain a delay in publication of contract information but not withholding it altogether.

“Of course, if you’re busy saving lives, it’s fine to achieve publication a little later, and by a little later I mean one or two weeks later,” he said. “But these hospitals are up and running for more than a month now.”

He added: “You can do things quickly but the information is public........

© HuffPost


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