Interview: Richard Walsh

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Regular COVER columnist Richard Walsh reveals a colourful past in Whitehall as an NHS reformer and his views on the future of the protection market.

It would seem that Richard Walsh is a man of mystery. Despite his monthly column in COVER magazine, a spot of impromptu research at this magazine's recent forum, where he was a panel member, found widespread cluelessness as to who he is.

Which is perhaps not so surprising for a man who describes himself as a "policy wonk".

A quick summary of his career bears this out: up to 2001 he was with the Department of Health where as a senior civil servant he was involved in the first NHS reforms, the first GP reforms and NHS services for disabled people. 

Then he hit the big time: "I moved on to strategy and I did the briefing for the incoming Labour government, which was probably the most exciting job I have ever done. Then that got me promoted and I basically ran the strategy unit for the new government and dealt with issues that came from Number 10. So quite a broad portfolio really."

In 2001 Walsh moved to the ABI and was head of health and protection until 2007.

"I think one of the reasons they wanted me was because I had to deal with the mess that the industry was in over genetics and I negotiated the first moratorium on genetic testing. 

"I also was instrumental on issues such as the statements of best practice on critical illness and income protection, and on private medical insurance. I was involved on reviewable rates and whether they were legal or not, which was a very complicated piece of work involving the Ombudsman and the FSA at the time."

Walsh was also at the forefront of anti-gay discrimination, basically stopping the industry's discriminatory underwriting practices far ahead of incoming legislation in the form of the Equality Bill.

"I got a medal from Peter Tatchell for doing that," he added.

Towards the end of his time at the ABI he was also involved with CI claims disclosure: "I am really pleased about that because we were declining about 20%-odd of claims and now, of course, it is probably about 5%."

His current lodging at SAMI Consulting is in effect self-employment, as SAMI is a loosely tied bunch of consultants. More ‘policy wonkery' followed with the Department of Health again and the Romanian government on their health system reform, not to mention a currently stalled attempt at implementing a protection quality standard, in association with HSBC, Friends Life, Exeter Family Friendly and Cirencester Friendly Society.

All this and a monthly COVER column, too.

So, given this background what does he see as the main issue facing health and protection today? He turns out to be remarkably sanguine on the subject: "I don't think there are intrinsic problems.

"Obviously, there are issues, but no, I don't see a systemic problem in the way that there was with PPI. So I feel quite confident about talking about the sector; I think it is immensely valuable and it could be a lot more valuable.

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