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Withholding risk register may breach law

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Former shadow health secretary John Healey has threatened to take the government to court over its refusal to publish the NHS risk register relating to the Health and Social Care Act.

Earlier this month, ministers took the rare step of using a veto to prevent publication of the document, which contains an assessment of the potential risks of the government's controversial reforms.

This was despite a ruling by the Information Tribunal stating the document should be made public, a view shared by Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

The ministerial veto can only be used in 'exceptional cases'. However, a report from Mr Graham's office published last week said 'none of the criteria for exceptional cases... are met' in relation to the refusal to release the risk register.

Mr Healey (pictured) first called for the register to be published in 2010, during the passage of the Health Bill. He said ministers were 'riding roughshod' over freedom of information laws by refusing to do so.

'I have challenged the Cabinet's veto in the Commons and I've have not ruled out a challenge in the courts,' he said.

Ministers insist they are 'committed' to freedom of information law, but said they and officials must be able to 'deliberate sensitive policy formulation, in expectation that their views are not published at a time when it would prejudice development and delivery of policies'.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley added: 'Had we not taken this decision, it is highly likely that future sensitive risk registers would turn into anodyne documents and be worded quite differently with civil servants worrying about how they sound to the public rather than giving ministers frank policy advice.'

In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Healey said the government was denying NHS staff their right to know the potential impact of the Health Act.

'Your health ministers have misjudged and mishandled this huge NHS reorganisation from the outset, and their confusion and incompetence is continuing even after the NHS bill has passed through parliament,' he said.

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