New data must wait until after the election

Written By: James Douglas
Published: June 6, 2017 Last modified: June 6, 2017

The publication of key financial performance data from the NHS in England will be delayed until after the election.

Regulator NHS Improvement had wanted to publish data on the scale of hospital deficits but was advised against it by the government.

In a statement, NHS Improvement said a date for the publication of the figures had to be agreed with the Department of Health, but this had not been done when the June 8 election  was called.

The statement said: “We sought advice and clarification in the hope that a date for publication could be agreed but it was clear, after discussions with the department, that this would not be permitted without breaching Cabinet Office guidance. It is disappointing, but the financial results for the provider sector will have to be published after the general election.”

In the 2015-16 financial year, NHS hospitals and other trusts ran up deficits totalling £2.4bn. The latest figures covering the three months until the end of March is expected to confirm the deficits for the most recent financial year, 2016-17.

Whitehall officials have advised that because of so-called purdah rules there should be a delay until after polling day.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chairman, said: “The government is clearly running scared, refusing to face up to the funding crisis that has put the NHS at breaking point. Delaying the release of the figures won’t magically solve the very real problems our health service is facing.”

Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “The general election and purdah appear to be putting a number of important NHS decisions on hold. I would argue that it is only right and just that important data pertaining to the NHS in England is published.”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “It’s a cover-up to deny the public the true picture of the NHS. We demand full transparency so everyone knows the real state of the NHS when casting their vote.”

The Department of Health said it was a matter for NHS Improvement, while the Conservative Party offered no comment.

NHS England caused some raised eyebrows at the start of the campaign by announcing that the monthly performance figures, including A&E waiting times, due on 8 June would not go out then because it was polling day.

Meanwhile, leading scientists, in a letter co-ordinated by the Science Media Centre, have written to the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, calling for clarification of the purdah rules. The signatories said that the public “are being denied access to the best experts” because university researchers felt unable to provide comment to journalists.