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Point of Order

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last month, I received from a constituent some serious allegations about the conduct of individuals in the cosmetic surgery industry. The allegations involved a surgeon who had been struck off the General Medical Council register in this country, but who was conducting consultations with UK patients via Zoom, from a private clinic overseas. A separate allegation was that a doctor in the UK continued to refer patients to the struck-off surgeon, and that his services were being advertised on UK-based websites.

On 20 May, I wrote to the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries). On 3 June, I received a direct response to my letter. Lo and behold, it was not from the Minister, but from the CEO of Transform Hospital Group, a private company. I know that it was a direct response because the CEO actually states that he had received my letter directly from the Care Quality Commission.

I take an extremely dim view of my correspondence with the Minister being passed on to a private company without my knowledge or consent. I consider that a major breach not only of confidentiality, but of my trust and that of my constituent who made the complaint in the first place. I do not think a Minister’s correspondence should ever be shared with a private company, breaking the bond of trust that we have with our constituents. I seek your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how I can rectify this and ensure that it does not happen again.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having given me notice of his intention to raise this point of order. Mr Speaker shares his concern that sensitive correspondence appears to have been passed from the Department to a private company for a response, and Mr Speaker will be drawing this matter to the attention of the Leader of the House to ensure that these important issues are understood across Government and not only by the people who are paying attention to this particular point of order this afternoon.

The 2016 guidance produced by the Cabinet Office on the handling of parliamentarians’ correspondence goes into some detail, which I will not quote in full now, but the right hon. Gentleman is right in pointing out that that guidance says that

“departments should treat correspondence with great care to ensure that confidentiality is not broken.”

It also states that

“official replies to letters from MPs should only be authorised in exceptional circumstances”.

It would appear that guidance has possibly not been followed in this case.

I would have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I would make sure that the Minister gives an answer, but I am delighted to say that the Minister in question is here in the Chamber, so I shall call her to respond to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for the advance notice of his point of order, because the very short time that I have had has enabled me to do some investigation, and enabled officials to investigate, to find out what has happened.

The chronology is that the Department was passed a letter sent to me by the right hon. Gentleman on 26 May. The letter raised some very serious concerns about the conduct of a doctor working for a cosmetic-surgery provider referring UK patients for consultations with a former doctor who was struck off by the General Medical Council in August 2020 and is now based in Italy.

The right hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of conversations about the cosmetics industry and issues of this nature, so he will understand why I have taken this matter so seriously. Due to the nature of the allegations and the potential implications for patient safety—which I take very seriously, particularly when they pertain to women—my Department raised the issues set out in the letter with the GMC and it was also passed to the Care Quality Commission, which is responsible for regulating providers of cosmetic surgery in England, to enable it to consider the issues that were raised. The CQC needed to go back to the provider to find out whether the allegations were true and what had happened.

I take the complaints very seriously. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as he is aware—we have spoken about this—I had not even seen the letter yet myself. I can only believe that the letter was shared with the GMC and the CQC to ascertain what happened in order to inform a letter that I would then send to the right hon. Gentleman. I have yet to see the letter. I take these complaints incredibly seriously and my Department is reviewing how this information and the letter were handled and how the information was leaked. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman once our inquiries have been satisfied and, as he and I have previously discussed, I shall also write to his constituent.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the point that he has raised has been taken very seriously by the Minister. The House will be pleased to know that the Minister and her Department are taking this matter very seriously indeed, and I will happily tell Mr Speaker that that is the case.

I shall now briefly suspend the House for three minutes in order that arrangements can be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.

Bill Presented

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Eustice, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Michael Gove, Secretary Alister Jack, Secretary Simon Hart and Victoria Prentis, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the welfare of certain kept animals that are in, imported into, or exported from Great Britain, and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 13).