MORE than a year after a company chairman’s wife donated £21,000 to the office of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the same company has been awarded a £53m NHS prison health contract.

The contract, awarded by the North-East Offender Health Commissioning Unit, has been awarded to Care UK rather than current NHS providers.

Last night, Grahame Morris, the Labour MP for Easington and a member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said it represented a clear conflict of interest.

Trevor Johnston, North- East head of health for the Unison union, said: “Questions have to be asked why it would go to this particular company.”

A year ago, it was revealed that Mr Lansley’s private office was given £21,000 by Caroline Nash, wife of the thenchairman of Care UK, John Nash, to help fund their operations.

The November 2009 donation was part of a total of £203,500 given to the Conservative Party by Mr Nash and his wife over the past five years. Mr Nash is no longer chairman of Care UK, but remains a consultant to the company.

Until the contract was put out to tender last year, the primary health care service for 5,000 inmates at eight North- East prisons and young offender establishments was provided by more than 400 NHS staff.

Care UK provides services for about 500,000 people including hospitals, walk-in centres, care homes and GP practices.

It also runs 59 residential care facilities.

About 96 per cent of its business is on behalf of the NHS.

Mr Morris said: “The private healthcare companies which bankrolled the Conservative Party into government are set to make huge profits from a destructive shake-up of the National Health Service.

“Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley received £21,000 from Care UK prior to the election, and it has now been revealed that Care UK is already benefiting from new multi-million pound contracts.

“In total, the Tories’ friends in private healthcare have given over £750,000 to Conservative Party coffers. It is outrageous that the Tory ministers now breaking up the NHS can be seen to be in the pockets of private healthcare.

“Andrew Lansley is handing the £80bn NHS budget over to the private sector, creating the conditions for wholesale privatisation of the NHS, and private healthcare bosses are salivating at the prospect of making huge profits from public money.”

Mr Johnston said: “The commissioners need to answer some serious questions why this has been put out to this company. They have gone for cut-price services.”

Julie Dhunny, from the North-East Offender Health Commissioning Unit, said: “We followed a competitive procurement process which was robust and transparent and considered both quality of service and value for money.”

When the story first broke last January, a spokesman for the Conservatives said: “Mr Lansley did not solicit this donation.

Donations from private individuals in no way influence policy-making decisions.”

A spokeswoman for Care UK said the company had an excellent track record in providing prison health services elsewhere in the country, earning a commendation for the NHS in Brixton after a big reduction in prison deaths.

She said: “This could not have been achieved if the service provided was solely about achieving the lowest cost.

“The money given to Mr Lansley’s office was a personal donation by the wife of a former chairman and not something the company would comment on.”