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Editor's blog Friday 25 March 2011: Another Lansley U-turn liberates survey data, as plans emerge to cut public health study

Click here for details of Andrew Lansley's Millwall Tendency, via subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.

Politicians view U-turns as many people view U-bends - useful things, but no desire to go near them yourself.

After his handy manoeuvre on price competition, if Our Saviour And Liberator Andrew Lansley is considering retraining for life after politics, then plumbing might be up the list.

The world always needs plumbers.

And he has made a significant U-turn over the publication of public satisfaction data with the NHS, which you can find here.

Yesterday, the data on that page ended with the December 2007 report.

Health Policy Insight readers are clever, diligent folk, and will have seen our report of Our Saviour And Liberator's absolute blank refusal at the health select committee on Tuesday to publish this data.

And will have clocked OSAL's quite determined view that this data should not be published. (It's not all about openness and transparency, those key freedom and accountability themes of the Coalition Agreement, but there you go: neither was a top-down reorganisation of the NHS).

And yet OSAL has changed his mind... so soon.

The Guardian's Polly Curtis suggests that Lansley's special adviser Jenny Jackson told her that the survey was published after it was discovered that it had already been released it into the public domain when an MP requested it in parliament last December: "He wanted time to consider the reports before they were published. These are polls from the Labour government that were not published by them. The government would not benefit from suppressing these".


OSAL's exact words to the Health Select Committee were "it was not published by my predecessors when it was done in previous years, 2009 and 2008, and it is not my current intention to publish it".

As you will note when reading them in context, these words ignore the regular publication before December 2007 by OSAL's predecessors.

These words also ignore the fact that, as OSAL's own SpAd told The Guardian, the government of the day in 2008 and 2009 would certainly have not benefitted from suppressing them either.

Public health's really important. Let's cut the survey
As if the current leadership's sense of intrinsic haplessness were not already strong enough, BBC News reports the stunning news that the NHS Information Centre is to cease funding the annual general lifestyle survey by the Office For National Statistics, which of course means the survey will stop.

(Unless of course someone wants to do it all for free, as their contribution to The Big Society.)

The public health White Paper was clearly not dire by accident.

This is, you will remember, a government that plans to take public health seriously.

Without swearing, which I shall leave to the rhyming skills of MC NxtGen AKA Sean Donnelly, it is difficult to better Martin McKee's description of the move to BBC News' Dominic Hughes as "the hypocrisy of a government that claims to promote public health yet enters into agreements with the food and alcohol industry that ignore the evidence on what really works - and now makes it impossible to know what the results of its misguided policies actually are".

UK Statistics Authority chair Sir Michael Scholar told the BBC, "the ONS, who, following extensive consultation with the users of their statistics, have just completed their post-budget cuts business plan, have no funds available to make up this shortfall, without damaging their own vital economic and social statistics.

"The decision by the NHS Information Centre will, therefore, result in the immediate discontinuation of long-established National Statistics on smoking, drinking, health conditions and use of heath services. The Statistics Authority is concerned that the abrupt discontinuation of a time series on topics as central to public policy as smoking prevalence and alcohol consumption will seriously undermine the UK's ability to monitor key trends affecting public health."".

Sr Michael also stated that the IC's decision breaks the government's own rules on consultation before such a cut is carried out.

The BBC News report correctly notes that 'the final decision rests with the health secretary, who must decide whether to approve the NHS Information Centre's proposal'.

Time for another U-turn, Mr Lansley. Sharpish, if you would be so kind.