BRITAIN’s national security could be threatened if the NHS is dependent on Chinese-owned companies in its supply chain, former defence minister Sir Mike Penning has warned.
The Conservative MP has pressed for details from the Government about every Chinese-owned or Chinese-financed company that has a contract with the department of health or the NHS.
The Government says that obtaining the location of overseas suppliers “could only be obtained at disproportionate cost” and “information is not held on whether a contract is held with a Chinese-financed company”. Neither NHS England nor NHS Improvement collect this information centrally.
Sir Mike said: “National security isn’t all about guns and weapons. It’s also about national security around infrastructure.”
He argues the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of security of supply.
Just as the role of China-based companies in supplying 5G communications infrastructure has received intense scrutiny, he says the importance of Chinese-owned companies in health infrastructure should also be the focus of attention.
He wants to ensure there is ministerial approval of contracts of products that are “vital to the national economy and the health of the nation”.
“Before these contracts are approved, either the Cabinet Office or the relevant department needs to actually okay it,” he said. “That means ministerial oversight.”
The Hemel Hempstead MP is concerned that the department of health’s former state-owned supplier of blood plasma is now owned by a China-based investment group.
The department brought together several operating divisions in 2010 and formed BPL Holdings. It sold a majority stake to private equity firm Bain Capital in 2013 and China’s Creat Group Corporation bought BPL in 2016 for £820million.
Sir Mike, who argues the sale should not have happened, used a parliamentary question to ask whether the Government carried out a risk assessment of the sale of BPL by Bain Capital in 2016.
Health minister Edward Argar said: “Bain Capital carried out its own due diligence with respect to the sale. The department was fully informed and supportive of the sale following its own corporate due diligence process on the purchaser.”
BPL declined to comment.
Sir Mike also asked what assessment had been made of the “risk of the NHS working with Chinese companies that have links to the Chinese state”.
Mr Argar said: “As an open economy, we welcome foreign trade and investment that adheres to our laws. While we have made no specific assessment, the department for business, energy and industrial strategy’s investment security unit coordinates expertise from across Government to ensure that where risks arise from instances of foreign investment, the necessary assessment is made on a case by case basis.” – (DailyExpress)