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Editor's blog Friday 14 January 2011: 'Liberating the NHS' impact assessment distincly un-liberated

The Guardian's Denis Campbell has the story that shadow health secretary John Healey's effort to obtain the DH impact assessment for SOS Lansley's plan for 'Liberating The NHS' under Freedom Of Information legislation has been refused.

Earl Howe told Healey that the release of the impact assessment could "inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchanges of views for the purposes of deliberation. Whilst conscious that there will be public interest in the contents of the department's risk register and assessments being made freely available, the public interest in preserving the ability of officials to engage in discussions of policy options and risks without apprehension that suggested courses of action may be held up to public or media scrutiny before they have been fully developed or evaluated has been taken into account.

"I have also considered the need for myself, my ministerial colleagues and our officials to have sufficient space in which to develop thinking and explore policy options. This disclosure may deter candid discussion in the future, which may lead to poorer quality advice and poorer decision-making … ".

Oops. Earl Howe's words offer a (presumably unintended) condemnation of DH policymaking.

The Bill is to be published next week. The suggestion that releasing the impact assessment for the White Paper's "suggested courses of action .... to public or media scrutiny before they have been fully developed or evaluated" looks more than slightly like an own goal.

One would think that Earl Howe didn't mean to criticise the Coalition's policy process in justifying the refusal to release.

It is not difficult to surmise that the impact assessment would be broadly critical.

This top-down, whole-system redisorganisation is high-risk. NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson has been saying more or less nothing else since the publication of the White Paper. The NHS Confederation, Kings Fund, Nuffield Trust, BMA, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all have pointed out the significant risks.

Fasten your seatbelts.