After a year of hiding a risk assessment regarding its plans to transform the NHS (into an increasingly privatised monstrosity, with the government no longer in charge of it), health secretary Andrew Lansley has been ordered by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, to release a document that outlines the risks associated with his widely-criticised Health and Social Care Bill.
As the website Practice Business explained, “The Information Commissioning Office (ICO) found that the Department of Health had twice breached the Freedom of Information Act in not disclosing the document and the strategic risk factor associated with the NHS reforms contained therein.”
Upholding separate complaints by John Healey, who was the shadow health secretary until last month) and the Evening Standard, after the Department of Health rejected two separate requests under the Freedom of Information Act to see its assessment of the risks, Christopher Graham stated, as Practice Business described it, that the “public interest was more important than minister’s insistence that revealing the information would hinder the formulation of government policy.” As he explained, “Disclosure would significantly aid public understanding of risks related to the proposed reforms and it would also inform participation in the debate about the reforms.”
Describing the victory, the Evening Standard noted that the document was “expected to reveal the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS from the unprecedented reshaping of the health service,” and also, crucially, pointed out that, when the Standard “put in its FOI request in February with debate raging over the NHS changes,” Mr. Lansley’s officials argued that releasing the risk register would have “jeopardised the success of the policy.” (emphasis added)
The Standard added, accurately, that that remark was bound to “spark speculation over what the department was so desperate to keep from the public” — and that is indeed at the heart of this extremely dubious activity by the government. It was, moreover, not reassuring that, in addition, the Department of Health had “also defended non-disclosure on the grounds that it could ‘deter from full, candid and proper deliberation of policy formulation and development.'” If the first statement — about “jeopardis[ing] the success of the policy” — was nakedly revelatory about the government’s fears, the follow-up comment didn’t even make sense, as “full, candid and proper deliberation of policy formulation and development” can only benefit from discussion of all the relevant information, and not just that which is chosen for scrutiny by the Department of Health.
The Department of Health has 35 days to publish its analysis of the risks (from November 2, the day the ruling was issued), and issued a statement saying that it was considering the decision notice from the Information Commissioner. It is, of course, possible that Lansley will appeal, although he will surely be under pressure not to do so.
Responding to the news, John Healey stated, “The Government is forcing through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history and Andrew Lansley has spent the last year trying to keep the huge risks secret. The Information Commissioner now says the Health Secretary has broken the law in hiding the truth from the public. This is a landmark legal decision which confirms a million NHS staff and the public have a right to know the risks the Government is running with our NHS and what steps they’re taking to reduce the dangers.” He added, “The year-long cover-up is a disgrace, especially when doctors, nurses, patients groups and the public are all so worried about the Tories’ NHS plans. The commissioner’s report is a demolition job of Lansley’s attempts to keep the truth from the public.” As the Standard also noted, “He called on David Cameron to order the Health Secretary to ‘hand over the documents in full.'”
Last week Andy Burnham, who took over from John Healey as shadow health secretary last month, launched a campaign for the government to drop the bill, and, as the Information Commissioner issued his ruling, the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees urged supporters of the NHS to email their MPs immediately, asking them to demand this secret NHS report is made public immediately. It’s very easy, and will take you a couple of minutes, at most.
This is how 38 Degrees describes the importance of piercing the government’s secrecy:
What’s he trying to hide? For a year health minister Andrew Lansley has been refusing to publish a civil service report on the risks he’s taking with the NHS. Now the Information Commissioner has ordered him to publish it. But he could still keep it hidden for another month — until after more key votes have taken place.
We can’t afford to wait that long. The House of Lords is debating the NHS plans right now. If the report on risks to the NHS is released immediately, it could persuade key members of the House of Lords to stand up to the government. […]
The NHS belongs to all of us. We all pay for it, and we all rely on it to care for us and our loved ones. We don’t want it put at risk – that’s exactly why we’ve been campaigning together all these months. We have a right to see what this report says.
For further information, see: Battle for Britain: Resisting the Privatization of the NHS and the Loss of 100,000 Jobs, Save the NHS! Will the BMA Do the Right Thing, and Reject the Coalition Government’s Privatization Bill?, BMA Emergency Meeting Calls on Government to Drop NHS Privatization, Act Now to Save the NHS, as Government Advisor Claims Reforms Will Show “No Mercy” and Allow “Big Opportunity” for Profiteering, Save the NHS: Make No Mistake, the Government Plans to Privatise Our Precious Health Service, Save the NHS: As Lib Dems Vote to Support Tory Privatisation Plans, The Last Hope is the House of Lords, NHS Privatisation: Protest on Sunday, as 400 Doctors Accuse Government of Planning “Irreparable Harm,” and Lords Prepare Opposition, Save the NHS: The Battle is Not Over, Despite the Lords’ Capitulation on the Privatisation Bill’s Second Reading and As Tories Approve Private Takeover of Hospital, Lords Challenge Plans to Let NHS Be Run By An Unaccountable Quango.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Digging and sharing now, Andy.
Willy Bach wrote:
Hey, that must be a f…cking great policy if you have to keep it secret. Is this yet another low-tide mark in British democracy? The US consultants are probably D Cameron’s mates. You could run a whole hospital on their consultancy fees.
Thanks, George and Willy. As I found out the other day, it appears that the gravy train for “consultants” isn’t too huge (yet), as consultants (including US firm McKinsey) were paid £5.5m in 2010-11 (with KPMG taking £4m of the total), but they obviously intend to be able to rake it in if the privatisation bill passes its last hurdle in the Lords and they get their hands on seriously large parts of the NHS.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
already emailed Joan Ruddock about this, Andy x
Me too, Ruth. I hope others do so. As I mention in the article, it’s very easy, and it’s here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/nhs-secret-report
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I cannot sign this, since I don’t have a UK postal code. But I’ll do the next best thing, i.e. I’ll post the link to the petition on my FB page.
Thanks, George. Much appreciated.
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: