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Editorial Monday 14 Novmeber 2011: Mr Lansley's curious liberation, or why an urgent ban will take four months

Mr Lansley's liberation is a curious thing.


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He is unwilling to set free the DH Risk Register on his Health And Social Care Bill - requested under FOI legislation by both Labour's former shadow health secretary John Healey and by the Evening Standard.

The Information Commissioner's Office has now ordered the DH to release the report.

Meanwhile, he has determined that local freedoms for PCTs to manage waiting times are not at all what he wants.

This is nominally in response to the NHS Co-Operation and Competition Panel's report on AWP in July of this year. We reviewed that document here, a few days after we had exclusively revealed that the Health Bill Impact Assessments had been red-rated for risk by the Regulatory Policy Committee.

The CCP's co-operation with the NHS Partners' Network in the genesis of the inquiry was exposed by The Guardian and Spinwatch, as you may recall.

You may also recall the David Stout of the NHS Confederation (of which the NHS Partners' Network is a part) describing the CCP document's allegations in the report as "unsubstantiated".

The timing of Mr Lansley's response to the CCP report, so soon after Friday's announcement of the ICO ruling on the Risk Register, could make a person a tad sceptical of the motivation.

Let us not fall into such knee-jerk scepticism. Let us assume that three-and-a-half months of delay on the part of Mr Lansley and the DH betokens proper consideration.

Let us also assume that the delay in implementation of the policy of "banning PCTs from enforcing minimum waiting times on referrals and putting in place caps on operations that do not take account of the healthcare needs of individual patients" until the end of this winter - March 2012 - is in no way a pressure-valve measure.

It could be banned with immediate effect, of course. But presumably it's so urgent that a four-month delay is required.

It's clearly good that "all decisions that could impact on patient choice must now be taken at PCT Board-level and must be made public.". We just don't have any evidence that the decisions were not being made at board level hitherto.

In the DH press release, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (saviour, liberator) says that "PCTs have to manage resources carefully but they must do so without restricting patient choice. That’s why I am taking firm action today and banning these unfair measures imposed on patients. Our plans to modernise the NHS will go even further. The Bill puts a duty on doctors and nurses responsible for designing local health services, to protect and promote patient choice as far as possible”.

Mmmmm. It's clearly so curiously urgent that it took three-and-a-half months for Mr Lanslery to decide on this liberation, and will take another four months to implement. "Firm action today", indeed.