The public interest in publishing a risk assessment of the NHS overhaul in England is “very high, if not exceptional” a tribunal has ruled.
Risk registers are lists of risks associated with a policy or programme, they include estimates of the likelihood of the risk occurring and its potential impact via the RAG (red, amber green) traffic light system.
It was held that because of the exceptional nature of the NHS overhaul and the nature of the risk register itself, which dealt with “implementation/operational type risks” and not direct policy considerations, the tribunal ruled it should be published.
John Healey, Labour’s former shadow health secretary, who made the original freedom of information request in December 2010, said the tribunal’s statement highlighted the need for the Government to publish the risk assessment immediately. There is a very strong public interest in transparency and accountability with regards to the risks involved in introducing the NHS reforms.
At the tribunal hearing, Una O’Brien from the Department of Health said that risk registers were meant to enable civil servants to “think the unthinkable” about what might go wrong however unlikely and to publish them could lead to a “very distorted” view of possible risks. However, while the tribunal accepted the “very strong public interest” in allowing officials and ministers privacy to develop policies, it said that did not mean there should be an absolute exemption for risk registers.