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Health Secretary vetoes publication of NHS risk register

9 May 2012

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The document marking the potential risks that could arise from the government’s health reforms will remain hidden as the Health Secretary has taken the rare decision to exercise a Ministerial Veto to prevent its publication.

The decision ends a near 18-month battle over the release of the information.

Andrew Lansley said he viewed the disclosure of the Health Act’s Transitional Risk Register as an “exceptional case”.

He claimed the cabinet took the decision not to publish the document to ensure civil servants are allowed a “safe space” to provide Ministers will “full and frank advice in developing policies and programmes”.

“This is not a step I have taken lightly,” said Lansley.

“I am a firm believer in greater transparency…but there also needs to be safe space where officials are able to give Ministers full and frank advice in developing policies and programmes.

“The Freedom of Information Act always contemplated such a ‘safe space’ and I believe effective government requires it. That is why Cabinet has today decided to veto the release of the Department’s transition risk register. 

“Had we not taken this decision, it is highly likely that future sensitive risk registers would turn into anodyne documents, and be worded quite differently with civil servants worrying about how they sound to the public rather than giving Minister frank policy advice.”

MP John Healey, then Shadow Health Secretary, first asked for the release of the Health Bill’s transitional risk register in November 2010 through a Freedom of Information Request.

Healey said yesterday’s (8 May 2012) decision was “poor policy and dumb politics”.

“This is a desperate act which will backfire badly [and] is an admission of defeat on the legal arguments for public release,” he said.

“Risk has been at the heart of concern about the longest legislation and biggest reform in NHS history. Lack of evidence and confidence about how well the Government was prepared to manage the risks was a major cause of professional, public and Parliamentary alarm at the plans. By keeping the risk register secret, Ministers have missed the chance to reassure people they’re on top of the risks.

“There must be some very big risks in the Government’s NHS reorganisation for Ministers to override the law with their political veto.

“The decision is poor policy and dumb politics.”

Healey revealed he has put forward a request to the Chief Executive of the NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB) to publish its implementation risk register of the NHS reforms.

A spokesperson from the NHS CB said they would be “very happy” to provide Healey with recently-published documents outlining key risks and challenges.