Health and Social Care Bill
Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General
Andy Burnham (Leigh, Labour)
No, because we brought down NHS waiting lists to their lowest ever levels and we left patient satisfaction at its highest ever level. Those same waiting lists are going up under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government and he should be ashamed of that. He will not publish the information about the risk to waiting times because he is frightened of putting it before the House and the public, but we will remind them of the truth.
The Government proclaimed that they were going to be the most open and transparent Government in history. Today, it still says on the Treasury website in a statement of the Government’s principles for risk management:
“Government will make available its assessments of risks that affect the public, how it has reached its decisions, and how it will handle the risk. It will also do so where the development of new policies poses a potential risk to the public.”
May I suggest that the Government take down that misleading statement of policy? Their actions have left it in tatters, together with the grand claims of openness and transparency. The tribunal, they will say today, has not given us its reasons. Ministers will try to argue that the public and Parliament’s right to know about the impact of their policy decisions is outweighed by the public interest in the preservation of a safe space for policy advice.
Those arguments were considered, first, by the Information Commissioner, and subsequently by the Information Rights Tribunal. They found the opposite to be the case: that the public interest lay in full disclosure. But it does not matter; Ministers are simply re-running the arguments of a case that they have lost. They have no leave to reopen the substance of that argument, but they are not the only arguments that they have lost.
In an attempt to rescue the Bill last year, the Prime Minister made a number of claims for it. They cover issues that we know are in the local and regional risk registers which have been published. First, he said the Bill was needed as the NHS does not
“deliver the patient-centred, responsive care we all want to see”.
He cited heart services and claimed that someone in this country is twice as likely to die from a heart attack as someone in France. That was before new research in January reported a 50% fall in heart attack deaths in the past decade.
Then the Prime Minister said that cancer services were failing people, compared with other countries. That was before new research in November 2011 which showed that the NHS in the past decade achieved the biggest drop in cancer deaths of any comparable health
system in the world. Thirdly, the Prime Minister and all the Ministers on the Government Front Bench have routinely trotted out the same script for years—that NHS productivity has declined in the past decade. That was before new research on NHS productivity from Professor Nick Black published in February in
showed that, far from falling, NHS productivity increased in the past decade at the same time as the NHS achieved patient satisfaction.
One by one the Government’s arguments for the Bill have fallen apart. They have comprehensively lost the argument. They have convinced nobody and now they are running scared, resorting to the only remaining option of ramming the Bill through Parliament before they are required in law to publish the real assessment of their policies.