Former Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly lobbied NHSX chief Matthew Gould for access to NHS staff data to support the rollout of a payment app, it has been revealed.

Cameron was employed as a lobbyist for Australian firm Greensill Capital, which developed an advance payment app for doctors and nurses in the NHS. The app, called Earnd, later went on to secure a partnership which saw it rolled out free of charge to all NHS organisations.

Emails seen by The Times reveal Cameron had written to Gould within weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic hitting to pitch “one of the businesses I now work with”.

He told Gould the Earnd app “addresses one of your key priorities: helping all NHS employees’ welfare, morale and wellbeing”.

“Our ask is about electronic staff records, as Earnd will be much slicker if it can obtain access to employee data … I think some help from you would go a long way. Separately, they are seeking to gain access to trust data held by the dominant rostering system, Allocate,” he wrote to Gould in April 2020.

Cameron stressed the use of Earnd was important in helping support NHS staff in the face of the pandemic.

Gould replied to Cameron within hours to say he would “certainly look into the electronic staff records question”. The emails were published in full by The Times.

By October 2020, NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), which provides payroll services to the NHS, announced it was rolling out Earnd to all NHS organisations free of charge.

At the time, NHS SBS said the collaboration was about “providing the NHS with easy access to digital technologies, which improve the lives of critical healthcare workers across the country, and save more time and money for patient care”.

A spokesperson for NHSX said: “NHSX is supportive of technology that can improve employee wellbeing and make it easier for nurses, doctors and other NHS staff to do their jobs, and when services are procured this is always done transparently and following the appropriate processes.

“Greensill was one of many ‘fintech’ firms which approached NHSX to discuss their products as part of our ‘innovation surgery’ but we did not enter in to any contract or partnership with them.”

Gould did not meet or discuss products with Greensill or Earnd, NHSX confirmed.

The loophole

Greensill’s decision to offer the Earnd app for free meant it sidestepped the usual procurement rules in place, including the requirement to take part in open competition.

Usually, if a start-up is looking to work with or access the NHS they would need to take part in open competition against other start-ups and suppliers. There are instances where open competition is not required but that usually applies to suppliers who have been appointed to an approved purchasing framework.

There are several NHS-affiliated entities that provide payroll services and staff data is held across several organisations and government agencies, which makes it hard to access the full set of data.

That’s where Cameron’s lobbying of Gould comes in. Following Cameron’s initial email, Gould passed his request on to a colleague who pursued it further with NHS Electronic Staff Records, which is run by NHS SBS.

Greensill also pursued NHS SBS on behalf of Earnd. NHS SBS is a semi-private body – a joint venture company between the Department of Health and Social Care and French IT services company Sopra Steria – which meant Earnd wasn’t required to adhere to usual public procurement rules.

Earnd was made available in October 2020 though the MySBSPay app, which was provided by NHS SBS. A spokesperson for NHS SBS confirmed to Digital Health News that while the app was available through MySBSPay the contract always remained between Earnd and individual NHS trusts.

The first organisation to make Earnd available to its workforce via MySBSPay was the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which has more than 10,000 employees.

Earnd reportedly pledged to pay NHS SBS hundreds of thousands of pounds for every 10,000 staff members who enlisted on the app. A spokesperson for NHS SBS said the entity had not received any payment from Earnd.

They confirmed three trusts had made Earnd available to their staff via the MySBSPay app but only about 450 employees chose to use it. Separate from the partnership with NHS SBS, Earnd also provided its service directly to small number of trusts [less than 10]. It’s not known how many trusts agreed to send staff data to Earnd.

Greensill and Earnd both went bust in March 2020. Greensill is being wound up by administrators while Earnd has been bought by a competitor.

Several inquiries are underway into the Greensill lobbying scandal after it was revealed Cameron had lobbied several MPs and high profile NHS leaders, including a private drink with the health secretary Matt Hancock.