The new head of the NHS financial regulator has come under fire for refusing to give up her private health insurance.
Baroness Dido Harding, a former TalkTalk chief executive, dismissed calls from MPs to relinquish her use of private healthcare when she becomes chair of NHS Improvement – the body tasked with cost-cutting in the NHS.
In a pre-appointment grilling by MPs, she faced pressure to send a “positive message” by only using the NHS but the Conservative peer said it would be wrong to “demonise” private healthcare.
Her comments prompted such concern among members of the Commons Health Select Committee that they plan to to raise their fears with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, The Independent understands.
Asked if she thought it would send a “positive message” to give up her private healthcare, Baroness Harding said: “I really don’t, not least because a very large number of the trusts that NHS Improvement regulates do private business as well as NHS business.
“I don’t think we should be demonising one over the other.
“I think the NHS itself is absolutely a pillar of British society but as I’ve said I think it’s pretty obvious from the outside that the system needs more money.
“I think we’d be cutting off our hand to spite our face if we demonise private healthcare.”
Baroness Harding, who is the Government’s preferred candidate for the role, was also pressed to show her independence by relinquishing the Tory whip to sit as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who sits on the Health Committee, told The Independent: “She is hoping to head the organisation that is responsible for improving healthcare for the population of England, 95% of whom don’t access to private healthcare.
“These people will want to feel confident that the person in charge is fully committed to using the NHS in order to have confidence that she will battle on their behalf.”
Baroness Harding stood down from her role as chief executive of Talk Talk in February, after leading the firm through the aftermath of a major cyber attack where thousands of customers saw their personal data divulged.
She also came under fire for being awarded a significant pay rise in the wake of that security breach, which hit profits at the firm.