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Call for probe into health forum link to Big Pharma

A Holyrood watchdog has been asked to probe two parliamentary health forums administered by a businesswoman with links to the drugs industry.

Concerns have been raised
Concerns have been raised

The secretariat service for two of the Parliament's cross-party health groups (CPGs) is provided by the head of the Wellbeing Alliance, a body that has worked with pharmaceutical firms. Its CEO, Jacquie Forde, also owns a public affairs firm that has a pharma client.

CPGs allow politicians and other interested parties to debate areas of common interest, compile reports and flag up issues of public concern.

However, concerns have been expressed about the role on CPGs of commercial lobbyists and public affairs specialists, who can gain access to MSPs through the groups.

Forde is listed as secretary and treasurer of the CPG on health inequalities and secretary of the chronic pain group.

She is also the sole shareholder of the Wellbeing Alliance, a not-for-profit social enterprise set up in October 2012 which lists its address as Newton Terrace in Glasgow.

Its website describes it as a team, of "public health trained social entrepreneurs who want to make a difference".

Forde's other firm, Quorate Public Affairs, has the same Glasgow address and was created in the same month as the Alliance.

Until recently, Forde's social media profile said of Quorate: "We provide high quality public relations and political lobbying services and our team have decades of experience working in and around the disciplines of Pharma, NHS, Media, Politics and Charities."

It added: "Due to the nature of our base we have particular experience in the Scottish Healthcare market. This includes Market Access involving [the] Scottish Medicines Consortium, Health Boards, Scottish Government and Parliament."

After being approached by the Sunday Herald, Forde said she did not do any lobbying and would amend that part of her LinkedIn profile. She said the Alliance had worked with drugs companies on "surveys, statistics etc", adding that Quorate has one pharma client that is currently "non active".

She said her CPG secretariat work is voluntary and carried out as a private individual.

Before Quorate, Forde worked for health firms such as Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche. She is also a former chair of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry's cardiovascular and diabetes groups.

The Parliament's Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee can require an external group that provides secretarial support for CPGs to hand over a client list or details of donations over £5000.

Professor David Miller, a lobbying expert and professor of sociology at Bath University, who has campaigned for transparency in this area, has written to the committee about the two CPGs. It is understood he has asked about the groups' link with the Wellbeing Alliance.

Forde said: "I work voluntarily for the CPG on health inequalities as an individual citizen, using the Wellbeing email address for convenience.

"I merely co-ordinate speakers and topics that have been suggested by the co-conveners of the group, take minutes and administer attendees and apologies. Pharmaceutical issues have never featured in the group's work and this can be verified by the co-conveners, the group's agendas and minutes. "

A Parliament spokesman declined to confirm or deny any complaint about the CPGs, but said: "Cross-party groups must comply with the Code of Conduct and declare who provides its secretarial support. Where that support is provided by a consultancy or public affairs firm, the SPPA Committee has the power to require the organisation to disclose its full client list."

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Health

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