Liam Donaldson takes up role with lobbying firm APCO

Exclusive: Consultancy snares former chief medical officer to serve on advisory council

Sir Liam Donaldson: will work with health clients
Sir Liam Donaldson: will work with health clients

The former chief medical officer for England has agreed to advise a global lobbying firm with a string of UK healthcare clients.

PRWeek can reveal that Sir Liam Donaldson has joined APCO Worldwide as a member of its international advisory council.

The move comes just more than a year after Donaldson quit his role as the UK’s chief adviser on health issues. He had been in the post for almost 12 years, advising the prime minister, the health secretary and other ministers.

In the new role, Donaldson will provide strategic advice for clients such as the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

APCO boasts ‘more than 60 recognised global leaders’ on its international advisory panel.

The consultancy’s UK managing director Edward Walsh said: ‘We rely very heavily on the IAC. It’s a key part of our business. The members of the IAC who are focused on healthcare and pharmaceutical client work that we do will be highly used, as it’s a thriving practice.’

Walsh did not provide details of how much Donaldson would be paid for the part-time role. He said: ‘We get these guys together several times a year. I can’t go in to remuneration but they are incentivised to work with us.’


‘Revolving door’

Last year, APCO signed up the former Labour cabinet minister John Hutton as a consultant in its global political strategies division.

In recent years a number of former ministers and civil servants have taken jobs in industries they were previously in charge of, prompting concern among some MPs and campaign groups.

Commenting on Donaldson’s new job, Labour MP Paul Flynn told PRWeek: ‘This looks like another worrying example of the revolving door from independent public service to the world of commerce.’

‘There is widespread concern that former ministers, civil servants and generals swiftly metamorphose from high office into the paid servants of business, possibly after hawking around their contacts book and insider knowledge.'

Flynn, a longstanding scourge of the lobbying industry, added: ‘The greatest possible danger is that the holders of high office may be tempted to take decisions that could be influenced by the chance of retirement rewards. When crucial decisions are made, they should be judged on the public good and not on the possibility of a retirement hacienda in Spain.’

A recent report by campaign group Transparency International also criticised the so-called ‘revolving door’ between government and big business.

However, Walsh insisted that Donaldson would not be trading on his contacts developed in government.

He said: ‘Someone such as Sir Liam will tell us what works and what doesn’t. It’s a sounding board for strategy. It’s not about access. It’s about understanding the stakeholder environment and really looking at the client’s objective and making sure we help in achieving it.’

In a statement, Donaldson said: ‘I hope to be able to use my health experience to ensure that APCO continues to build its reputation for knowledge-based communication expertise in the health sector and beyond.’


Playing by the rules

Under the existing rules, ministers and top civil servants have to notify the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) of any new jobs taken up within two years of leaving office. The committee then advises on any restrictions that should apply.

Walsh said that Donaldson had notified Acoba, who had cleared the appointment. It is not known whether Acoba has placed any restrictions on Donaldson. A spokeswoman for Acoba was unable to comment further when approached by PRWeek.

Donaldson’s time in office will be remembered for work on reforms including the introduction of smoke-free public places and his handling of high-profile health issues such as the Alder Hey children’s hospital scandal and the MMR panic. Most recently, he oversaw the development of the national flu pandemic framework.

In his resignation letter to the cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell last year, Donaldson said: ‘I have been immensely privileged to serve in this post over for nearly 12 years. I have been pleased to see many of my policy recommendations – stem cell research, smoke-free public places, reforms to the General Medical Council, changes to consent for organ and tissue retention and the creation of the Health Protection Agency – carried forward into legislation.

‘I have been pleased too, that reforms I proposed to improve quality and safety of NHS care – clinical governance, a patient safety programme, procedures to identify, and prevent harm from, poor clinical practice – are fully embedded in the service and have been also adopted in many other parts of the world.’


APCO clients

UK healthcare clients of APCO include: Abbot; Advanced Sterilization Products; British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers; Cordis Corporation; Denplan; DePuy Companies; Ethicon Endo-Surgery, GHX; Johnson & Johnson; Pfizer Inc. APCO previously handled comms for Cerner Corporation but the account is now held by MHP.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in