Health Secretary Steve Barclay has been forced to distance himself from a former aide who called for the “full privatisation” of the NHS.
Leon Emirali, who worked in Barclay’s parliamentary office as a media aide until July 2020, used a TalkTV interview to declare that “politicians with the guts” should devise a plan to “rip the whole thing [the NHS] up and start again”.
Emirali, who is now a PR consultant and has previously stood as a Conservative council candidate, was asked during the interview if “part-privatisation” could help the NHS in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He replied “full privatisation is the answer”, adding: “I think we need politicians with the guts to stand up and say we need to privatise our NHS, we need to get in private investment, but they’ll never do it because it’s so politically contentious.”
A source close to Barclay has said the comments “do not reflect Steve Barclay’s views in any way”.
Shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said: “Steve Barclay must explain why he appointed this hard-right ideologue as his right-hand man.
“As soon as Tories step out of office, they reveal what they really think about our NHS: that it needs ripping up.”
A government source confirmed that Emirali worked for Barclay during his time as Brexit secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury, but underlined that he did not hold a policy role.
The controversial comments have come in a week in which Rishi Sunak has sought to bolster support for the government through a series of announcements on the health service.
But the government’s “health week” has somewhat backfired after news emerged that Barclay was poised to back recommendations to scrap some cancer waiting list targets. Meanwhile, rows over the junior doctors’ strike have continued and plans for 900 additional hospital beds this winter were criticised as figures showed 12,000 beds have been cut since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
A source close to Barclay said: “These comments do not reflect Steve Barclay’s views in any way.
“The Health Secretary is fully committed to the NHS and its founding principle of healthcare for all free at the point of delivery.”
Emirali confirmed he had never advised Barclay on health policy and “worked with him only on media and communications”.
“Healthcare should always be free at the point of access for those who cannot afford it – as I made clear when I spoke to TalkTV,” he added.