Nothing To Hide (Apparently)

Remember when the government rolls out the fallacy of 'If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear'? They normally do this when talking about the ability to spy on all our emails and phone calls, install CCTV in our homes and other such privacy busting measures. After all, the argument goes, if we are all open and honest about everything then crime, terrorism and pedophiles will no longer exist.

(I'll not delve too deeply into that particular fallacy)

Well it seems that they have not taken this motto to their own breast. Instead the government has decided to veto the information commissioners order to reveal the NHS Risk Register.

Let me explain the risk register, because part of the reason the government says it wants to keep this secret is because it is awfully complicated and it is unlike us mere members of the public could ever understand it.

The NHS risk register is how to measure the risk of something bad happening due to to governments changes. It does this by measuring two things - how likely something is to happen and how bad it would be if that something did happen. It measures both of these elements on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the worst.

So for example - rating the likelihood of something bad happening, you would give 'Being hit by a meteorite' a 1 because it is incredibly unlikely. You would give 'Being hit by a bus' a 2 because it is more likely (though not common), and you would give 'catch a cold' a 5 because it is really quite likely.

Then you rate the impact that a bad thing would have, again on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the worst. So 'Being hit by a meteorite' would be a 5 because it's likely to kill you stone dead. 'Being hit by a bus' is probably a 4, it's likely to do some lasting damage to you. 'Catching a cold' would be a 1 because it's unlikely to do very much harm to you.

You then multiply these two numbers together to get the relative risk. So 'being hit by a meteorite' would be a 5 (1x5) because while it is really nasty it's unlikely to happen. 'Being hit by a bus' would be a 8 (4x2) and 'Catching a cold' would be a 5 (1x5) because although it is likely in the wet and cold climate of the UK the actual harm is quite small.

These numbers are actually based on science, previous evidence and clever predictions- unlike what i have just done these numbers are not just plucked out of thin air. It's a good way of managing and mitigating the harm of the risks involved in any activity.

That is the risk register in a nutshell. It's the equivalent of buying a car after kicking the tyres and checking that it's not two cars welded into one.

As the NHS reform bill went through the various stages of being voted on by the commons and the lords, a number of people who were to vote on it asked if they might actually look at the risk register - kick the tyres as it were. At each request the government refused. Why would the people voting for this legislation need to see if this car is a ringer? Don't you trust the government? You must be some sort of Trotsky.

At one point in the lords, they actually voted against seeing the risk register. I believe this is the lord's version of sticking their fingers in their ears and humming loudly.

The information commission, after a freedom of information request, ruled that the government should publish the risk register, the government then went to a number of different courts in an effort to not do this. However, none of the courts agreed with the government because, well, they aren't idiots.

Yesterday the government invoked the nuclear option - a veto for 'exceptional circumstances'. Stating that the reason for this veto was because 'otherwise the civil service might tell lies if they realise that the plebs might look at their working out'.

Essentially the government is admitting that the risk register is full of 4x4 and 5x5 risks and that if the public were to see this then they might start questioning if the NHS reform bill was actually worth the risk. Why else would you work so harm to hide something if it's contents were not explosive to your governing of the UK?

In the Queens speech today one plan was for 'businesses to have less inspection'. Ostensibly so that they can get on with the business of making profit rather than, I dunno, being in compliance with the law. I suspect that this will apply to all those private companies taking over parts of the NHS - After all, actually inspecting them might show that the companies involved may not have their patient's best interests at heart. And that would be damaging to the government.

I would be willing to put money on the risk register containing a 4x4 risk of 'Private healthcare companies break the law and provide sub-standard service'…


This blogpost was written while listening to Rob Dougan 'Furious Angels'