Thursday, 23 February 2012

John Pugh on health risk register

Southport's MP John Pugh has voted against the Government over the need to relese the national Risk Register on the NHS Bill.

Speaking in Parliament in the debate on the NHS Bill yesterday, John Pugh MP said:

"Another day, another Health Bill debate: it is a groundhog day, déjà vu experience for many of us. On these occasions, I often find myself sounding like that irritating little man with the flat cap and glasses who was in Harry Enfield's programmes and went around all the time saying, "You don't want to do that." It is a matter of record that I have described the Health and Social Care Bill as a huge strategic mistake and that I have from the start publicly and privately-but, I hope, politely-tried to discourage the Government from progressing with it. Even thought it is Ash Wednesday today, I do not intend to repent of my ways, although I do agree with Alan Johnson that the onus is now on critics to come up with a viable alternative to what the Government propose to implement.

"Regardless of the merits of the Bill, the politics of it have turned into an absolute nightmare, to the extent that there are now two clearly defined schools of thought in Parliament. There are two opposed camps: those who think that the Bill is very problematic and that we should drop it, and those who think that it is a problematic but that we are stuck with it. All that is despite the good intentions of Ministers, the constructive amendments of both Houses and the work of the NHS Future Forum. I essentially agree with Tim Montgomerie, who publicly acknowledged what some Cabinet Members privately acknowledge: it is toxifying for the Tories and detrimental to the Liberal Democrats, which is sad.

"Over the past 20 months, I have tried-possibly ineptly-to get that message across. I even e-mailed the Prime Minister's advisor on strategy, Andrew Cooper, a man for whom I have appreciable respect. On 14 April last year I wrote to him saying that over the previous 10 months I had "watched the coalition in terms of health policy cheerfully prepare to be driven over the cliff by the Department of Health." On 4 May of the same year I told him that the Government risked ending up in a no-win situation, and on 6 September that the Bill was unnecessary and would create uncertainty, divide the coalition, lower morale and harm Government ratings-which it has. There are no happy endings, I said.

"I get no satisfaction from being proved right. After all, nobody welcomes a know-all. However, nobody likes gigantic Government schemes that do not come off-especially not, as John Healey said, in the Department of Health. That is why it would have helped so much to have had a gateway review of Connecting for Health, the Government IT project. That was not published by the Blair Government, and blew £12 billion of taxpayers' money. A review was demanded by my hon. FriendMr Bacon, but Blair decided to press on bravely through the signals of danger, aided and abetted by a report from McKinsey. I was relieved to find out that the Government do not rely on advisers to the extent mooted in the press, at any rate, because their advice has not always been solid or sensible.

"Would not we all have really liked, however, to see a gateway review of Connecting for Health, and would it not have saved the country an appreciable amount of money? Why did we have to wait nine years-and spend £12 billion-before the NHS essentially settled on the position mapped out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk in a paper in 2006? Should we not have seen the review? Perhaps Labour should adopt an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" policy as the best way forward, for in truth there are not many good arguments against transparency in the case of this NHS risk register-and I have heard some pretty bad arguments, both today and in recent days.

One particularly poor argument has been that Members should not support this call because that would endorse the Labour party's position. I think that is called political tribalism, which is not attractive and which poisons this place. It is always wiser to agree with people when they are right and to disagree with them if they are wrong, regardless of party. Another bad argument that has been made several times this afternoon is that the Labour Government did the same thing and refused to publish risk registers. That is a pretty weak argument in terms of its general logic. Just because the Labour Government fought an illegal war in Iraq, that would not justify the coalition's fighting another war in a country of its choosing. Then there is the weak argument that publishing the register would create a precedent, but what is the precedent? Surely, it is that risk registers may be released when the Information Commissioner-a role that was set up by our legislation-so decrees when interpreting our legislation.

More to follow and a link to hansard

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