Toby Helm Observer political editor
Saturday 7 March 2015 21.16 GMT Last modified on Sunday 8 March 2015 00.09 GMT
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt faces allegations of a politically motivated cover-up after the Tory head of the health select committee said his department’s refusal to publish a damning report on NHS management before the general election was not acceptable.
Sarah Wollaston, a former GP who took over the chairmanship of the committee last year, said it was not reasonable or right that a report by former Marks & Spencer boss and Tory peer Stuart Rose, which was commissioned by Hunt a year ago and completed in December, was being kept from the public.
Senior government officials have made it known that Rose’s report is strongly critical of management systems in the NHS – findings that are potentially damaging for the Tories before an election in which the NHS is centre stage.
There are also suggestions that the report implies that the government’s own NHS reforms, steered through by Hunt’s predecessor Andrew Lansley, may have made matters worse.
Rose, who is said to be angry that the report has been put on the back burner until after the election, was unavailable for comment.
The Department of Health said it did not have a date for publication of the Rose report because its remit had suddenly been widened. “The remit of the Rose review has been expanded so that it takes into account the NHS’s own five-year forward view, which was published after Lord Rose’s work had begun. This means that further work is required before the final report is published.”
Wollaston told the Observer that reports which had been commissioned by government and paid for by taxpayers should be made available at the earliest opportunity on matters of such clear public interest.
“There is far too much of this going on, with uncomfortable information being withheld,” Wollaston said. “Just as with the Chilcot report into the Iraq war, it is not right that reports paid for out of public money are not made available to the public on such vital issues as soon as possible, particularly ahead of a general election.”
She said she was expressing her personal views, as she had not had a chance to discuss the issue with her committee. But she added that she would have liked to have been able to draw on the findings of the Rose report in an investigation of public expenditure in the NHS that is now being finalised by the select committee.
Rose, who is now chairman of the online retailer Ocado, was asked in February last year by Hunt to assess how NHS hospitals could keep “the very best leaders to help transform the culture in underperforming hospitals”.
But in a story that he has not denied, the Financial Times said recently that the peer had been dismayed by what he found and regarded the overall standard of management to be “totally shocking”.
Last night shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Jeremy Hunt likes to claim that he stands for openness and transparency but this looks for all the world like a politically motivated cover-up in advance of the general election.
“If he wants to dispel or dismiss this suspicion, he must make arrangements to publish this report without delay.”
Rose would not be alone in thinking that the Lansley reforms made the management of the NHS less effective and more bureaucratic. A recent report by independent thinktank the King’s Fund said the Lansley overhaul left structures so “complex, confusing and bureaucratic” that the organisation of the service “is not fit for purpose”.
It also said the changes wasted the time of NHS bosses, who were “distracted as they were required to re-arrange the deckchairs rather than navigate safely past the iceberg” of growing demand at a time of acute financial pressure.
It also said the reforms led to a loss of talented senior NHS leaders by creating an array of new organisations, each responsible for areas such as hospitals or public health, meaning that no one was in overall charge and that there was a leadership vacuum.
Sir Stuart Rose
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