The office of Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has pocketed a substantial cash injection from the wife of private health firm Care UK chairman John Nash, igniting a heated debate over a potential conflict of interest.

Care UK is an independent provider of health services – such as walk-in centres and GP practices – to the National Health Service, and many are uncomfortable over its link to the £21,000 donation to Lansley’s office, particularly as its head Nash, who also manages various other organisations providing services to the NHS, “stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Conservative policies to increase the use of private health providers,” according to the Telegraph.

The move has raised many questions over Tory health policy as just last month the party pledged to boost the use of independent providers for NHS services if elected. “How can the public trust Cameron on the NHS when his health secretary is hand in glove with a big beneficiary of Tory health policy?”, a senior Labour source was quoted as saying by the paper.

But according to various media reports, a Tory party spokesperson has swept aside any allegations of inappropriate behaviour, saying: “We have been completely transparent about this donation. It has been properly registered with the parliamentary register as well as with the Electoral Commission and is therefore fully within the rules”.

Furthermore, he pointed out: “John Nash and his wife have a wide range of interests, of which Care UK is just one”, and stressed that Lansley “did not solicit this donation” and that “donations from private individuals in no way influence policy making decisions”.

However, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb reportedly said: “This is a staggering conflict of interest which completely undermines the Tories claim that the NHS would be safe in their hands”, and Unison spokesman Dave Prentis told the Daily Mail: “These donations show the Tories in bed with one of the country's biggest private health companies. They simply cannot be trusted to run the NHS for the benefit of all”.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham has reportedly now written to Conservative lead David Cameron claiming that the donation has raised “major questions about the independence of Conservative policymaking”, according to the Daily Mail.

Scrap screening programme?
Meanwhile, it emerged last week that if the Conservatives win power Lansley might scrap the government’s flagship vascular screening programme, which is designed to pick up cardiovascular disease or the risk of developing associated illnesses at a much earlier stage to help save thousands of lives.

Speaking at the launch of new public green paper A Healthier Nation in London last week – which lays out Tory plans to “tackle the current health crisis”, Lansley claimed the scheme was not designed on the basis of research and that it needs a rehash to better address unhealthy lifestyles, say media reports.