Tuesday, April 17, 2007

DoH makes Wells report into NHSu available

The Department of Health has now made available the full text of the Wells report into the NHSU you can get it at: Review of NHSU

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

NHSu - £72m & no clear role

I have today received a copy of the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS university which I have been trying to obtain since 2004. It paints a damming picture of an organisation lacking in clarity of purpose, and failing to engage with stakeholders while managing to spend 72 million pounds of taxpayers money.

As readers of this blog will know, the NHS university was proposed in the labour manifesto of 2001 and established as a special health authority in 2003. It's demise was announced on November 30th 2004 by the then Health Secretary John Reid, following a report into it's progress and performance by Sir William Wells.

I asked for a copy of the report in October 2004 and my MP received a letter from John Hutton in November 2004 saying that it was the Department of Health's intention to publish their findings "shortly".

When the Freedom of Information Act came into force on 1st Jan 2005 I wrote, under the new mechanisms, requesting that the report be disclosed which the department of health refused to do. I then appealed to the Information Commissioner who ruled in Nov 2006 that the department should disclose the document. The Department of Health then appealed against that decision to the Information Tribunal. Last week, just before the hearing, they withdrew their appeal.

The covering letter, which I received with the report today, suggests that "the Department has undertaken a full review of the determination of the public interest in this case". They argue that release in early 2005 would "prejudice any future reviews which might be conducted by the Department into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of sponsored bodies", but that two years later this has changed. There is no explanation of what has changed since they appealed against the Information Commissioners ruling in November 2006.

The report itself is in two parts, the first detailing progress and performance and the second forward to the creation of the "NHS Institute of Healthcare Innovation and Education".

It starts by setting out the original concept behind the NHSu, but even on page one criticises the lack of clarity about where the NHSu fitted into the "already crowded healthcare education and training sector" and what its role should be. It goes on to describe tensions between strategic objectives and potential roles as a provider or broker of training. The lack of understanding of the wishes of customers (eg Strategic health Authorities) , is highlighted as a reason for the lack of support and integration with the wider NHS.

The quest for University title is highlighted as a major problem which was not understood by senior staff in the NHSu or ministers and added to confusion over the NHSu's role.

A major part of the report is devoted to delivery and value for money, which deals with a range of issues including; the staff complement of 412, learning services, and academic partners. It gives some numbers of the limited take up of NHSu courses and predicts that these would not meet the projections, particularly once the courses had to be paid for. Comments from a variety of stakeholders about the lack of a clear business plan caused Sir William concern as did the processes for governance. The 30% of staff involved in corporate services "seems disproportionately large" especially when viewed in the light of comments about the "culture and style of a start-up enterprise" and the lack of focus on structure and systems. Frequent changes of structure and individual roles were seen as another barrier to the establishment of effective working.

The report concludes with some answers to crucial questions about whether the investment was appropriate and over what timescale it is likely to bear fruit. The answers are damming and relate to lack of clarity of purpose, the absence of market surveys or prices, governance, pursuit of the University title, and engagement with stakeholders.

It suggests that in the light of the £72 million investment up to March 2005 "the Department of Health is exposed to significant embarrassment if the value for money delivered by the NHSU were to be probed".

I suspect this might be the reason that the report has taken so long to see the light of day - but I hope that now it has, it will be used to inform future decisions and avoid making the same mistakes again.

I hope that a full copy of the report will soon appear on the DoH FOI releases page.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wells report on NHSU - DoH withdraws it's appeal

I traveled to London today for the hearing by the Information Tribunal, under the Freedom of Information Act, into the appeal by the Department of Health against the Decision Notice by the Information Commissioner which ruled that they should disclose the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS University.

The DoH had withdrawn their appeal before the hearing (unfortunately no one had told me - otherwise I wouldn't have had to take the train).

I have not yet had an official confirmation of this, or been given any reasons, although I have been verbally promised a letter imminently.

In the absence of anything official I can only speculate that the appeal was withdrawn because they realised they wouldn't win!

I'm also still trying to find out the timescale the department now has to disclose the report. The ICs ruling on 27th Nov 2006 gave them 35 calender days & the department appealed on 20th Dec (23 days). I don't yet know the date on which they withdrew the appeal, but I'm assuming the clock starts ticking again at that point. (I'm not aware of any other case where this has happened & I can't find anything in "the rules" which clarify this)

My cynical mind means I am speculating that the disclosure may come over a bank holiday weekend, when it may receive less scrutiny than if it was published on a normal working day. Unless, of course, there are some other tactics to avoid or delay disclosure which I haven't yet thought of.

It is now two and half years since I first wrote to my MP about this & received a reply from John Hutton (then Minister of State at the DoH) stating that the department intended to publish the results "shortly". The long and convoluted process which has taken place since to obstruct access, makes me more and more convinced that the report must contain something which someone in authority doesn't want published.

I've already been offered a celebratory drink following today's experience - but I shall refrain from drinking it until The Wells Report is finally published.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Information Tribunal Hearing

I have just heard that the hearing of the Information Tribunal into my request for the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS University to be disclosed by the Department of Health, will be held on Weds 4th April at Procession House, 110 Newbridge Street, London EC4V 6JL.

Information Tribunal Ref: EA/2006/0094
Information Commissioner Ref: FS50070878
Decision Notice

Back story available on this blog - start at: NHSu report & Information Tribunal

If anyone has advice or guidance about whether I should be "joined to the appeal" or about the conduct of the hearing I would be grateful.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

NHSu report & Information Tribunal

Following the decision notice issued by the Information Commissioner in November about my request for the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS University, I have now received copies of the appeal by the Department of Health and the response to the appeal by the Information Commissioner.

The Department have argued that the Information Commissioner was wrong in his application of sections 33, 35(1)(a), 40(2) and 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The appeal hearing is to be scheduled between 8th and 22nd March and the Information Tribunal and is aiming for a final determination by 22nd June 2007.

I am currently deciding whether I want to be "joined to the appeal" & will post further news wen I know the date of he appeal.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

NHSu report - DoH has appealed

Happy New year.

As regular readers of this blog will know I have been trying, for over 2 years, to get the Department of Health to disclose the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS University.

At the end of November I thought this had suceeded when the Information Commisioner issued his decision notice agreeing with me that it was in the public interest for the report to be published and ordering the department of health to disclose it within 35 days.

I have been watching for this over Christmas and New year and the 35 days expired a few days ago & I hadn't seen it.

I have found out today that the Department of Health appealed, on 21st December, to the Information Tribunal. Although I have not seen a copy of the appeal I understand it argues that the Information Commissioner was wrong in his application of sections 33, 35(1)(a), 40(2) and 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The appeal has been sent to the information commissioner and then the chair of the information tribunal will rule on what is to be done next. I do not know how long this will take but will post it here when I find out anything further.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NHSu - IC Decision Notice Now available

The Information Commissioners web site now has the Decision notice relating to the Wells report into the NHSuniversity see

You can search for Case ref number: FS50070878 or use the "Authority" drop down list to look at the Department of Health.

Now I'm just waiting for a sight of the actual report which I'm hoping will be posted on the Department of Health's New Publications page

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wells report on NHSU - IC Decision

The Information Commissioner has just released a "Decision notice" (Ref: FS50070878) relating to my request to the Department of Health to disclose the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS university (NHSU) which will appear on the Decision Notices section of their web site soon.

The creation of the NHSu was a 2001 Labour Manifesto commitment.

The Commissioner has ruled that under section 1(1) and 10 of the Freedom of Information Act:

1. The Department has not complied with its' obligations under section 1(1) of the Act in that it failed to communicate to the complainant information to which he was entitled on the basis that it is exempt from disclosure under sections 33, 35(1)(a), 40(2) and 41 of the Act.

In view of this he requires that:

The Department shall, within 35 calender days from the date of the notice (27th Nov 2006) disclose the information requested in accordance with its duty under section 1(1) of the Act.

I will not reproduce the full decision notice here - it runs to 15 pages of legal jargon and will appear on their web site soon, but I do want to give a few significant highlights.

I believe this is currently the longest running complaint.
I originally contacted my MP in Oct 2004
I sent my initial letter to the DoH on 1st Jan 2005 & they rejected my request
I appealed and they again refused (27th April 2005)

I first wrote to the Information Commissioner on 8th April 2005 and there have been various communications since.

I believe this is the first test of section 33(1) of the act which relates to audit functions of statutory bodies, and the commissioner has agreed with me that this should be disclosed to the public. It is not yet clear how much the NHSU cost but estimates of £50-£60 million pounds of taxpayers money do not seem fanciful. Maybe when we see the full report this will become clear.

During the course of the commissioners investigations the department claimed that in addition to section 33 of the act other sections applied eg 35(1) (formulation of government policy) for the entire report and sections 40(2) (personal information) and 41 (information provided in confidence) for parts of the report.

Although the commissioner accepted that some of the sections were relevant to the report in all cases he said that the public interest in disclosure was greater than the public interest in maintaining the exemption.

If the department disagrees with the Information Commissioners report they have 28 days to appeal - I hope they do not choose to exercise this right, as this has gone on long enough - however I am worried that some government lawyers will see this ruling as setting precedents which may be applied to other government departments and processes and will not be as open as I would like them to be.

I look forward to seeing the Wells report on the Department of Health Web Site as I hope there are many lessons we can learn for the future.

I still support the NHS and many of the declared aims of the NHSu although I have some doubts about the way in which it was implemented.

I will comment again here when I finally see details of the report.

I would like to say that although it has been a long wait I recognise that the Information Commissioner has received a massive number of complaints and I would like to compliment and thank the particular "Complaints Team Leader - Central Government" who has dealt with this complaint throughout in a professional and courteous way.

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