Page last updated at 19:59 GMT, Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Labour: Ministers 'hiding' risks of NHS reform


Labour has stepped up pressure on the government over its controversial Health and Social Care Bill, accusing ministers of trying to "hide" the true impact of planned changes to the health service in England.

Opening a heated opposition-day debate on 22 February 2012, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called on the government to publish a confidential Whitehall document which outlines the risks of the NHS proposals, known as the "risk register".

Mr Burnham told MPs that regional versions of the risk register had already been published, and claimed they demonstrated that the bill could cause "significant harm" if allowed to proceed.

"If this is what is published in local risk registers, it begs the question what on earth are they trying to hide in the national assessment?" he told MPs.

Intervening, Conservative MP Julian Smith branded Mr Burnham a "scaremongering buffoon" - a remark he was forced to withdraw - for quoting from the Bradford and Airedale risk register.

Mr Burnham continued, telling ministers they should respect patients' "right to know" about the impact the changes could have.

He also denied David Cameron's claim during prime minister's questions earlier that he had refused to publish the register when he was health secretary in 2009, claiming it was in fact a "different type" of document.

'No more watering down this bill'

Amid rowdy scenes, Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans appealed for calm, telling MPs it was "easily" the "worst-tempered" debate he had ever presided over.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley spoke to defend the government's decision not to reveal the contents of the risk register.

He said doing so would deter experts from being candid when giving future advice.

"To be effective, a risk register requires all those involved to be frank and open about potential risk," Mr Lansley told MPs.

"If people are in doubt about the confidentiality of their views they will inevitably think twice before committing themselves to such direct and candid language in the future," he said.

The health secretary defended the coalition's record on the NHS, claiming the number of hospital-acquired infections were down, as well as waiting times.

"The idea you can simply stand still and nothing in the NHS needs to change is not the view of staff in the NHS, it's not the view of patients, it's not the view of the Labour party and it's not our view."

He was backed by backbench Conservative MP Edward Leigh, who urged him to press ahead with the health service changes.

"We urge you to keep going, no more watering down this bill, your parliamentary party is 120% behind you," Mr Leigh said.

You can watch the second part of the debate here .

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