John Healey writes to Prime Minister over cabinet NHS risk register veto

Rt Hon David Cameron MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

9 May 2012

Dear Prime Minister

Ministerial veto and release of the NHS risk register under FoI

Yesterday you and the Cabinet decided to take the rare step of using the Ministerial veto to block release of the NHS transition risk register which both the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal had ordered.

Having lost the legal arguments twice, you are now using the political veto to deny the public, patients and NHS staff the legal right to know what risks your Government is running with the biggest-ever NHS reorganisation.

Your Health Secretary justified the decision yesterday as “an exceptional case warranting my use, as a Cabinet Minister, of the power in section 53(2) of the Act”.

Today your Health Minister made clear on this morning’s R4 Today programme, that the case for vetoing release of the NHS transition risk register is general, not exceptional. He said: “… it is about allowing civil servants to have frank and free conversations, uninhibited by the thought that those conversations are going to be made public”. And when the point was put to him that “… you could apply that to any single Freedom of Information request of government discussions”, he confirmed: “The effect of the judgement, if we had not vetoed, would be that governments and civil servants shouldn’t be allowed to talk about key aspects of policy formulation, including the risks …”

As you will know, Government rules require cases to meet ‘exceptional’ criteria before imposing the Ministerial veto and the Information Commissioner has confirmed he is studying the Secretary of State’s statement of reasons in this respect. I am therefore copying this letter, and the transcript of Lord Howe’s interview to the Information Commissioner.

Furthermore, yesterday the Health Secretary announced that the Cabinet had determined to block the release of the NHS risk register. Today the Health Minister declared in his R4 interview; “We have every intention of publishing the risk register in due course, when we think the time is right”.

It is now 22 months since your NHS reform policies were published in the White Paper, 19 months since I made my FoI request and a month since the NHS Act received Royal Assent.

When will the time be “right” to release the risk register? Is the veto in fact temporary? Why did the Health Secretary not make this clear in his statement yesterday?

Your Health Ministers have misjudged and mishandled this huge NHS reorganisation from the outset, and their confusion and incompetence is continuing, even after the NHS bill has passed through Parliament. Unfortunately, this is entirely consistent with the wider characteristics of your Government.

I am therefore writing to urge you to get a grip of your Government, clear up the confusion and instruct the Health Secretary to come to the House of Commons tomorrow to make a statement.

I am also copying this letter to The Speaker.

John Healey MP