NHS news review

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Conservative election poster 2010

A few recent news articles about the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat(Conservative) coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.

In today’s NHS news review:

  • The Information Rights Tribunal to decide whether the risk register needs to be published as directed by the Information Commissioner continues.
  • Crap IT firm CSC gets another £1billion of NHS business
  • Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds on the NHS

 NHS reforms risk assessments ‘open to speculation’ if published

Department of Health permanent secretary Una O’Brien says contents of documents ‘might be interpreted and misrepresented’

The publication of documents outlining the risks relating to the government’s health changes could lead to a “distorted and wildly speculative interpretation of risk”, according to the permanent secretary of the Department of Health.

Una O’Brien also warned that publishing the documents would have a “chilling effect” on the way civil servants tasked with outlining the potential pitfalls of a policy commit their views to paper, as the government fights to keep secret the contents of its risk assessments of the government’s shakeup of the NHS.

O’Brien was giving evidence to the information rights tribunal as the government seeks to overturn a November ruling by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, who ordered the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to release his department’s risk assessment of the potential dangers of his radical shakeup.

It follows two separate freedom of information (FoI) requests lodged more than a year ago for the strategic risk register (February 2011) and the transition programme risk register (November 2010) to be made public.

Graham said in his ruling that disclosure of the two documents would significantly aid public understanding of risks related to the proposed changes and it would also inform participation in the debate about the reorganisation.

John Healey: Hidden risks that lie at the heart of huge NHS reforms

TODAY, I’ll be giving evidence in court in London and calling on the Government to release their risk assessment of the huge changes they want to make to our NHS.

It was back in 2010 as Labour’s shadow health secretary that I first asked the Department of Health to release this information, the “transition risk register” relating to the controversial Health and Social Care Bill.

A risk register contains an objective list of the risks associated with the implementation of a programme or policy, confirming and giving reassurance that the Department has considered fully what might go wrong and taken steps to ensure the risks are minimised or managed.

Risk has been at the heart of concern about the NHS reforms from the outset. Lack of evidence and confidence about how well the Government was prepared to deal with the risks was a major cause of growing professional, public and Parliamentary alarm at the plans throughout last year.

When the Government refused my FoI request, I referred it to the Information Commissioner. A year later, the Information Commissioner came to the legal judgment that the risk register – which he has had the benefit of seeing – must be released.

He said there was “very strong public interest in disclosure of the information, given the significant change to the structure of the health service the government’s policies on the modernisation will bring”. And he said it would “aid public understanding and debate”.

But the Health Secretary still refuses. It begs the question, just what is Andrew Lansley trying to hide?

David Cameron promised “no top-down reorganisation of the NHS” before the election; now he is forcing through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history – at the same time the health service is facing the biggest financial squeeze since the 1950s.

But this isn’t a matter of whether you are for or against the reforms.

It’s about people’s right to know the Government’s own assessment of the nature and scale of the risks they are running with the quality, safety and efficiency of our NHS. They want to know the Government are doing everything they can to reduce risks to patients and services.

But the Government haven’t reassured us of that yet – that’s one of the reasons why concern and criticism is still growing from the public, patients, health professionals and Parliament.

Ministers are dismissive. They’re out of touch. They simply can’t see what the NHS means to people, how much it matters.

We all need the NHS. We trust it when we are most fearful. We utterly depend on it when we are most vulnerable.

IT firm behind ‘unworkable’ NHS database keeps IT deal

Ministers have agreed to give the American company responsible for the “unworkable” NHS database almost £1 billion in health contracts

 Computer Sciences Corporation, an American IT firm, previously had a £1.9 billion contract for the national NHS system which was scrapped by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, last year.

The firm is understood to have threatened legal action against the Government and is now thought to have agreed to continue with up to £900 million of NHS work in return for dropping any legal action.

It will run computer systems for the NHS across the north, midlands and eastern England under the deal which is expected to be agreed in the coming days.

Ministers are expected to herald the “compromise deal” as a success which will save the taxpayer about £1 billion. However, it underlines the difficulties faced by the Coalition in extricating itself from previous contracts agreed by the last Government.

It will also add to growing allegations that despite the high-profile announcement that the beleaguered national NHS database is being scrapped – it is simply being replaced by a series of similar regional systems which will perform the same function.

The NHS database attracted widespread criticism following a series of damning official reports. Last year, the House of Commons Public Accounts committee described the programme as “unworkable”.

Last May, the National Audit Office criticised the project for being poor value for money, patchy and long overdue.


NHS, e-petitions and broken promises

[Jonathan Reynolds is MP for Stalybridge and Hyde and is parliamentary private secretary to Ed Miliband]

David Cameron is failing to listen not only to healthcare professionals but to tens of thousands of people who want the health bill dropped, writes one Labour MP

In the run-up to the last general election, David Cameron promised that Parliament would debate and vote on any issue if it had the backing of more than 100,000 people.

But that promise was broken in February – when I was refused parliamentary time to debate the future of the government’s Health and Social Care Bill.

An e-petition – calling on the government to drop the controversial bill – was started by respected health professional Kailash Chand OBE, who lives in the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency.

When I stood before Backbench Business Committee, the e-petition had already been signed by more than 162,000 people.

Yet despite widespread backing – including members of the Labour Party, the Green Party, the SDLP, the DUP and the Liberal Democrats – the application for the debate was refused.

In the 24 hours following the application people continued to sign the petition at a rate of one a minute. Now the total stands at 169,114 – and it is continuing to rise.

David Cameron made his promise to devote parliamentary time to any issue that was backed by 100,000 people because he wanted to show that he would listen; he wanted to show that he was in touch.

But his determination to railroad through the Health and Social Care Bill shows that he will not listen – not to the Royal Colleges, not to the patients, not to the healthcare unions and not to the tens of thousands of people who have signed the petition.

Of course David Cameron made another important promise in the run-up to the general election – he promised that there would be no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS.

Despite his reassuring words, the Health and Social Care Bill marks the biggest reorganisation of the NHS since its launch in 1948.

This bill is a reckless gamble with the NHS that could lead to widespread variation in the treatments that will be available in different parts of the country.



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