Government stalls release of papers on £12.4bn NHS IT plan and £5.3bn ID Cards scheme for years

In May 2007 Gordon Brown said in a speech: “Government must be more open and accountable to Parliament”.

But Computer Weekly has learned that government action to try and stop publication of reports on the £12.4bn National Programme for IT in the NHS, and the £5.3bn ID cards scheme, could stall the release of the information for years – despite rulings by the Information Commissioner that the documents should be made public.

It was known that the Treasury’s Office of Government Commerce was to go to the High Court under the Freedom of Information Act to try and stop the publication of early Gateway Reviews on ID cards. Gateway reviews are independent assessments on risky IT schemes at various stages in their lifecycle.

Computer Weekly has now learned that the High Court case is unlikely to take place before June 2008. This is nearly two years after the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas ruled that early gateway reviews on ID cards should be made public.

These early gateway reviews are already ageing – they were written in 2003 and 2004.


If the Office of Government Commerce loses its bid in the High Court to keep the gateway reviews on ID cards secret, the case could go to the House of Lords, which could delay publication of the reports until 2009.

Computer Weekly has also learned that the Cabinet Office is launching an appeal to try and stop the publication of five year-old information on the troubled NHS National Programme for IT [NPfIT].

Thomas ruled last month that papers on a seminar at 10 Downing Street in February 2002, which was chaired by then prime minister Tony Blair, should be released. The seminar led to the launch of the NHS’s NPfIT.

The appeal by the Cabinet Office is unlikely to be heard by the Information Tribunal before next year. If the government loses, and appeals, the case would be unlikely to be heard in the High Court before 2009 – seven years after the Downing Street seminar.

Until any final decision is taken, Whitehall officials and ministers are entitled to keep secret the reports on ID cards and the NPfIT.

So far government has not allowed any major disclosures of information about IT-related projects under the Freedom of Information Act. The government spends more than £12bn a year on public sector IT-related projects and programmes.

Links:

Gateway reviews on ID Cards should be made public, 2006 – Information Commissioner

Downing Street papers on NHS National Programme for IT should be made public – decision of the Information Commissioner – August 2007

Firms bid for ID cards contracts

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