Liberal Democrat voters are most keen to want the Government to publish the Department of Health Risk Register. A new YouGov poll commissioned by Progressive Polling and Unite shows that two thirds of voters (68%) believe the Government should honour the ruling of the Information Commissioner.
Liberal Democrat voters are the most keen to see this act of transparency, with 80% backing such a move. 73% of Labour supporters want to see its publication as do 62% of Conservative voters. All ages, social grades and regions support its release.
The Information Commissioner’s ruling in November for publication was followed by remarks from Andrew Lansley’s officials prior to their appeal that its release would have “jeopardised the success of the policy”. Since then, there has been scrutiny of a small number of published local NHS risk assessments that have highlighted risks of the Bill relating to “fragmentation” and “sub-optimal care” as well as risking overspending.
Two weeks ago member of the Health Select Committee, Grahame Morris MP, tabled Early Day Motion 2659 sponsored by Greg Mulholland MP and Andrew George MP calling for the publication of the Risk Register:
That this House expects the Government to respect the ruling by the Information Commissioner and to publish the risk register associated with the Health and Social Care Bill reforms in advance of Report Stage in the House of Lords in order to ensure that it informs that debate.
In total, 75 MPs have signed the motion including 13 Liberal Democrats. This is expected to increase ahead of the Opposition Day Debate due to take place on Wednesday on the Publication of the Risk Register. There a powerful case for following the Information Commissioner’s ruling and publishing this week:
1. This bill is a special case certainly worthy of additional scrutiny. The scale and scope of the changes to the NHS in Andrew Lansley’s Bill is contrary to the Coalition Agreement which pledged:
‘We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care’. [Page 24, The Coalition, Our Programme for Government]. In what appears a cynical manoeuvre, the Department of Health’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling will delay the publication of the Risk Register until after the Bill becomes law. If the Department is confident it has taken precautionary steps to mitigate risks, then it should share them.
2. There is very little trust that the NHS is safe in Conservative hands. Today’s poll shows that 70% of Liberal Democrat supporters trust NHS health professionals more than David Cameron and Andrew Lansley on the Health and Social Care Bill. John Pugh MP Chairman of the Liberal Democrat Backbench Health Committee told the Liverpool Post last week: “If the Conservatives had gone to the country at the last election and said ‘we want a market-based health system’ they would have lost the election badly. So they promised to safeguard the NHS instead. No-one has ever asked people ‘do you want to turn the NHS into a marketplace?’” This is a Bill the public didn’t provide a mandate for, was assured wouldn’t happen in the Coalition Agreement and is opposed by people the public trust the most. Transparency is essential to prevent a collapse in trust.
3. Last year Nick Clegg argued expanding Freedom of Information laws was “part of our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government. Free citizens must be able to hold big institutions and powerful individuals to account.” This is an agenda for progressives to unite around. Here is the ideal opportunity for the Deputy Prime Minister to demonstrate that aim is sincere and he is determined to enact it.
Publishing the NHS Risk Register does not require new legislation – it merely acknowledges the ruling of the Information Commissioner.
It would be seen as a sign of intent that the electorate (and indeed legislators) are capable of considering a risk assessment as part of a wider case for or against the Health and Social Care Bill.
Lib Dems are well placed to make powerful arguments for the release of the NHS Risk Register this week. Party supporters do not trust the Conservatives on health, they want MPs to vote for its publication and those MPs who vote for its release stand to be well supported in their constituencies. To vote to be kept in ignorance about the risk from the Bill would seem peculiar, somewhat damaging to trust in the Coalition Government and certainly not in keeping with the mood of the times.
Details of the poll can be read here.
* Neil Foster is editor of Progressive Polling which highlights and commissions polling questions often ignored by the mainstream media. He is married to a GP in Northumberland and has a strong interest in public health.