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Government fears release of NHS risk register

14 March 2012

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The government has refused to publish its transitional risk register on its proposed Health Bill until it has seen a detailed explanation of the reasons behind the decision to make the document publicly available.

While the Information Tribunal upheld the government’s appeal on the publication of its strategic risk register on 9 March, it ordered the release of the proposed health reforms’ transitional risk register. 

Speaking exclusively to MiP, Health Minister Paul Burstow hinted at the possibility of a further government appeal against the judge’s decision.

“The Information Tribunal now has to now spell out in law why it came to the decision it did,” he said.

“Of course we respect the process but I feel we should be at least be given the chance to see the detail after hearing the headline.  

“Until we see the reasoning, we do not know whether we will have grounds for a second appeal, of course it is conceivable we won’t and in that case we will have to react.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said while the government has a “technical right of appeal”, morally “it has nowhere to go”. 

“It would be an outrageous insult to Parliament if [the government] sought to fight this decision and pass the Bill without publishing the transition risk register.”

Burstow said the forced publication of the government’s transitional risk register could result in civil servants shying away from presenting ‘worst case scenarios’ to ministers in the future, leading to “poor policy and poor implementation”.

“The transitional risk register is unbalanced and is written solely for the purposes of describing what can go wrong,” he said.

“The fear is that it could simply become a tool for those who want to make mischief with the legislation rather than having a discussion about its pros and cons.”

A spokesperson for the Information Tribunal told MiP the judge understands the urgency of the case and confirmed work on compiling the detailed explanation is already underway. 

They couldn’t, however, give any indication as to when the document will be provided to the Department of Health. 

Chairman of the British Medical Association Council Dr Hamish Meldrum welcomed the judge’s ruling and implored the government to “accept the decision and not delay publication any further”.

“The Health and Social Care Bill is in its final stages in the House of Parliament, and the future of the NHS is too important to be decided without knowing the full impact of this troubled legislation before it completes its parliamentary process.”

The Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM) has welcomed the judge’s ruling, believing it will aid the transparency of the proposed NHS reforms and help build a consensus in professional bodies “that has been woefully lacking to date”.

Do you think the government’s transitional risk register should be published at this late stage?  Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

“Yes – definitely. What are the Government afraid of – the truth?” – Gordon Dixon, Bolton