Ministers have refused to make “Gateway" reviews of the £12.4bn NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) available to MPs, extending the clampdown on publication of the project assessments.
Gateway reviews of major public sector projects are carried out at key points in their lifecycle by the Office of Government Commerce to assess whether they are sure of progressing to the next stage of development.
But the government has been adamant that it will not publish the reviews and has filed a high court appeal against a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office – upheld by the information tribunal – that it must publish reviews of the £5.4bn ID card scheme in the public interest.
Ministers have also repeatedly refused calls for a feasibility review of the huge NHS computer project, despite support from the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee among others. Surgeon-turned-minister Lord Darzi is set to investigate how the IT project will produce clinical benefits – but he failed to reply to an offer by a Oxford University professor Martyn Thomas to supply details of the feasibility study proposed by 23 computing academics.
Health minister Ben Bradshaw has now refused a request by his Conservative shadow Stephen O’Brien to place the NPfIT gateway reviews in the House of Commons library, where they would be accessible to MPs.
“We have no current plans to do so,” Bradshaw said in his reply. “The gateway review reports are intended to help and inform the management of the programme and the Department [of Health]'s own decisions. They are not intended for publication.”
Reinforcing the government’s key argument against publishing the OGC documents, he added: “More generally, the government believe that the prospect of disclosure of any gateway review would restrain the frankness and candour with which participants engage in the gateway process, and that this in turn would undermine its effectiveness and the quality of recommendations arising.”
O’Brien told ComputerworldUK: “It is disgraceful that this government continues to hide the NHS IT programme away from public and parliamentary scrutiny. What have they got to hide? More then £12bn of public money is being spent, but the figures, and what progress, if any, are being kept secret from MPs.”
Despite the change of prime minister and ministerial team, the government remained “focused on spin and secrecy”, O’Brien said.