The Week’s NHS Reform News

By Tim Hardy

Just days after Cameron’s attempt to railroad through the Health and Social Care Bill by inviting only those who backed it to a meeting at Number 10, The Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health called for the bill to be scrapped, saying most members are concerned it puts children at risk.

Even while the pressure is mounting against the coalition with the overwhelming majority of health professionals now opposed to the reforms, this week sadly saw a minor defeat for opponents of the bill.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has twice broken the law by refusing to publish the risk register and is now stalling so he can put it off until it is too late for the information contained in this report to be made available to MPs voting through his reforms.

Fourteen Liberal Democrats joined seventy other MPs in signing an Early Day Motion, EDM 2659, demanding Lansley publish the risk register related to the Health and Social Care Bill. Credit is due to Dr Éoin Clarke who mobilised a team to put pressure on MPs to vote for the EDM.

Sadly, once the press had run with the “defiant Lib Dem rebels” story, only four Liberal Democrats had the principles to actually vote for the motion.

The overall vote was 299 to 246 giving a Government majority of 53.

During the debate, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham pointed out that the regional and local risk registers which have already been published contain worrying predictions for the future of health care, including poorer treatment for cancer patients.

The NHS Lincolnshire report identified a risk to “the continuation of the cancer service improvement, cancer network and the achievement of cancer waiting time target”. The risk was rated 16, which meant it was “extreme, likely to happen with major consequences”.

MPs reject NHS risk register pleas

The coalition’s continued refusal to publish the risk register suggests that horrors like this and worse are predicted nationally as a result of Lansley’s reforms.

The Liberal Democrats continue to pretend to the press that they’re opposed to the bill even though their voting record says otherwise. Today it’s Tim Farron’s time to play Mr Nice Guy, a performance lapped up by the Spectator and others as the coalition play their good cop, bad cop routine to let the junior partners save some face while they continue to vote through the Conservative changes.

As Farron plays to the gallery, the bad cops are digging in with a report bringing news of a bunker mentality at number 10 as the Conservatives warn of chaos if health reforms are dropped.

Meanwhile on a local level, Labour party members in East Riding and Hull have been challenging Lib Dems on their stance and in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Sarah Teather has come under pressure to speak out against the health bill. Rachael Saunders has created an online petition to save Tower Hamlets health services from coalition cuts and reforms, warning

Tower Hamlets is facing a merger of our hospital services, major cuts, and primary care commissioning support slashed as our award-winning primary care trust is abolished. Tower Hamlets Labour Party is campaigning to ensure these unnecessary changes and cuts don’t take .

If the rewards of helping save the NHS aren’t enough in their own, John Ashton who is being bullied by his state employers for speaking out against the NHS reforms has promised a pint of bitter to whoever outs the Department of Health coward behind the attempt to silence him.

A BMJ report shows that, contrary to the scare stories being trotted out by the Tory press recently, the NHS already works “remarkably well” compared with health services of other countries and does not need radical reform. Indeed, as NHS campaigner Rolfe Pearce highlights, the NHS has the lowest percentage of medical or other errors in the world

The UK had the lowest percentage of patients who had experienced medical or other errors in the past two years, as well as the highest percentage whose prescriptions were kept under review.

The Morning Star gives a rousing reminder of the importance of this fight, not just in itself but as a potential turning point in the ideological war being waged by the coalition

If the Bill is defeated it could mark a turning point which sees the Con-Dem anti-public sector blitzkrieg grind to a halt.

While the government has rightly been challenged on other matters – pensions, redundancies, reform of disability allowance, opposition to academies and rising unemployment – the opposition to the implementation of the Health and Social Care Bill has become a rallying point for opponents of the Con-Dem cuts who have formed a formidable defence line.

Let us hope that the “battle of the Bill” becomes the Stalingrad of the coalition government.

More sedately, the New Statesman lead editorial urges Clegg “to stake his claim to be the last defender of the NHS” claiming it is now up to the Lib Dems to prevent the “denationalisation” of the NHS.

Given the Liberal Democrat record, I won’t hold my breath.

4 thoughts on “The Week’s NHS Reform News

  1. Hi Jamie,

    The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham found that the Department of Health twice breached the freedom of information law in failing to disclose its strategic risk register after Lansley refused freedom of information requests by MP John Healey and the London Evening Standard.

    In his 14-page decision notice relating to Healey’s complaint, Graham said that the MP [John Healey] had last year used the FoI Act to ask the DH [Department of Health] for “a copy of the risk registers or risk assessments related to government plans regarding the modernisation of the NHS and the health and social care bill”. The DH refused under the Act’s section 35(1)(a) and said that revealing such information would interfere with policymaking.

    However, “the commissioner has now investigated the complaint and found that section 35(1)(a) is engaged but that the public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure”. The DH has 35 days from the date of the notice, 2 November, to publish its analysis.

    The DH breached both section 1(1)(b) of the Act “by refusing to disclose the information to the complainant” and also section 17(1) because it did not tell Healey within 20 days of receiving his request that it was relying on section 35(1)(a) as its grounds for withholding the material.

    Failure to publish the risk analysis within the 35 days “may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court … and may be dealt with as a contempt of court,” the Information Commissioner’s Office’s decision notice adds. But either side can appeal against the decision.”


    Lansley has time in which to appeal this decision and is, of course, taking full advantage of the delay.

Comments are closed.