This site is intended for health professionals only

Former Push Doctor adviser appointed health minister for innovation

A former advisor to online private GP provider Push Doctor has been appointed as health minister for innovation, a title which includes digital health.

Nicola Blackwood, who sits in the House of Lords, was until recently on the board of the private provider, but has now replaced former health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy, who resigned before Christmas citing family reasons.

This comes as the Government long-term plan – announced last week – promised digital GP appointments for all patients.

Ms Blackwood previously occupied a similar role in the House of Commons – minister for public health and innovation – between 2016 and 2017 before losing her seat at the general election in June 2017.

Since leaving her job as a minister she sat on the board of Push Doctor, until 9 January when she resigned.

She also worked as a health adviser to Lord Mandelson’s Global Counsel lobbying firm.

In April 2017, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments warned Ms Blackwood about using her ministerial experience for either role.

In relation to her role at Push Doctor, the committee said there ‘may be a risk that Push Doctor could gain an unfair advantage’ due to Ms Blackwood’s Government contacts.

Ms Blackwood will now work with health secretary Matt Hancock leading on, among other things, industry engagement, NHS innovation, and digital and technology.

Push Doctor chief executive officer Wais Shaifta said: ‘Nicola resigned from our board on the 9 January to pursue this fantastic opportunity and she leaves with our thanks and best wishes.

‘The fact she has been appointed to such a prestigious role shows the calibre of individual our board attracts; and how strongly the Government believes in the future of digital health.’

But Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister MP Jon Trickett criticised the move, calling it ‘yet another shocking example of the revolving door between highly paid advisory roles and lobbying, and the Government’.

Mr Hancock has previously come under fire from GPs who accused him of promoting digital first GP provider Babylon, including in a speech at Babylon’s headquarters, where he said Babylon GP at Hand was ‘taking pressure off the NHS’ and expressed a desire for wider access and greater competition ‘so that loads of companies can do what Babylon is doing.’

Last year, Push Doctor launched a pilot programme with a GP super-partnership offering video consultations with GPs.

While Push Doctor normally charges video GP consultations at a cost of £20 to private patients, this pilot offered a temporary service of free appointments for patients registered with a Modality practice.