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NHS Digital accused of conflict of interest over Accenture contracts

CHPI think tank cites concerns around board members that own shares in the consultancy firm

NHS Digital has been accused of a potential conflict of interest over contracts given to IT service Accenture, where two of its board members previously worked. 

David Rowland, the director of the Centre for Health and Public Interest (CHPI) told The Financial Times that the close links between the two firms were "concerning".

The digital body, which provides data and IT systems for the NHS, handed over 15% of its yearly budget to Accenture, with contracts worth around £33 million out of its total £218 million operating expenditure, according to its own 2018-2019 accounts. 

Former chair Noel Gordon and non-executive director Daniel Benton both held senior positions at Accenture and, according to the same financial report, also owned shares in the consultancy firm.  

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What's more, the family of another non-executive, Deborah Oakley, is also listed as owning shares in Accenture, according to a 'Declarations and Conflicts of Interest Register' that was published on 30 June last year. Oakley has said the shares were held by her husband and she herself has never worked at the consultancy. However, the large sums of public money that have been exchanged has caught the attention of the CHPI think tank. 

Rowland told the FT that it is "concerning that there are a number of close links between the two organisations which give rise to potential conflicts of interest and opportunities for undue influence". 

In a statement given to IT Pro, Accenture said its contracts with NHS Digital "were awarded following a competitive public tender process.

"We are proud of our work supporting major NHS projects including the delivery of Microsoft Teams during Covid and significant improvements to NHS Mail, Office 365 and cyber security services for all NHS users," it added.

Accenture is already facing criticism for charging high fees for its services during the pandemic, including its work on the government's £37 billion test and trace programme. The consultancy firms received 18 contracts related to the UK's pandemic response, according to the research firm Trussell.

Since the start of 2016, it has also won a total of 94 contracts from public authorities worth around £480m. 

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