The risk register for the government’s controversial NHS reform bill should be made public, the Information Rights Tribunal had ruled.
In November last year, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled that the Department of Health had breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to reveal the risk register, which lists all the possible risks associated with the bill.
"In the Commissioner’s view disclosure would … serve the public interest by aiding public understanding of the government’s reforms and the associated risks," the ICO ruled at the time. "This would have allowed the public to better contribute to the public debate surrounding the reforms."
However, the Department of Health appealed that decision. The purpose of a risk register is to allow the government to "think the unthinkable and record potential risks and mitigations fully, frankly and with absolute candour", parliamentary under secretary for the Department of Health Earl Howe explained in the House of Lords. Publication could "undermine the very purpose for which a risk register of this sort is produced, and thus directly threaten the successful implementation of government policy", he argued.
Today, Professor John Angel, principal judge at the Information Rights Tribunal, dismissed the Department of Heatlth’s appeal against the ICO’s ruling on the reform risk register. Angel upheld the Department of Health’s right to appeal disclosure of its "strategic risk register", the list of all the risks it faces, not just those associated with the reform bill.
The Department of Health said: "We are still awaiting the detailed reasoning behind this decision. Once we have been able to examine the judgment we will work with colleagues across government and decide next steps."
The government says that its Health and Social Care Bill will make the NHS more efficient by removing unnecessary layers of management and putting more control in the hands of practitioners. Critics argue that it paves the way for the privitisation of the NHS, and that it will damage patient care.