The UK Government has exercised its right of veto to prevent the NHS reform transition risk register from ever being published.
The Cabinet’s veto – normally used on grounds of national security – overrides two legal verdicts that the Government must publish the register.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley justified the veto by saying that publication of the risk register would weaken the policy-guiding value of such documents.
Details of the register leaked online indicate that it warned of a potential major breakdown of NHS service provision, as well as an increase in health inequalities.
The veto marks the conclusion of the Government’s 19-month struggle to keep the risk register secret in the face of legal challenges from Labour MP John Healey.
The DH lost two legal battles, being ordered to publish the risk register first by the Information Commissioner and then by a first-tier tribunal. Rather than escalate the legal process, it has used its political powers to conclude the issue.
According to Andrew Lansley, this “exceptional” step was necessary to prevent future policy documents being watered down by “civil servants worrying about how they sound to the public”.
John Healey described the veto as “a desperate act” that effectively placed NHS reform on the same footing as a war, while Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham called it “a cover-up of epic proportions”.
The BMA commented that it was “disappointed” by the decision, pointing out: “There is still a huge amount of complex and very controversial secondary legislation to go through parliament in relation to the Health and Social Care Act.”
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the veto was “astonishing” and meant “the public are only being presented with a partial picture of the NHS reforms.”