A government analysis of the risks of healthcare reform is to remain firmly under wraps after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley took the unusual step of exercising a ministerial veto to prevent its public release.

The Department of Health's Transition Risk Register, completed in November 2010, outlines the potential risks to the National Health Service posed by the government's plans for healthcare reform, but despite political, public and legal pressure to publish the document it is to be kept under lock and key.

The move to veto its release ends a battle Labour MP John Healey began more than 18 months ago with a request for access to the Risk Register under the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a statement this week, the DH insisted that "ministers and officials should be able to deliberate sensitive policy formulation, in expectation that their views are not published at a time when it would prejudice the development and delivery of policies". 

"If such risk registers were regularly disclosed, it is likely their form and content would change, and they would no longer be the effective internal management tools they are intended to be", it said.  

Explaining his position, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said there needs to be "safe space" where officials can be frank with Ministers during policy development. "The Freedom of Information Act always contemplated such a ‘safe space’ and I believe effective government requires it", he added. 

'Epic' cover up?

But Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said the government’s "disgraceful decision" to veto the publication of the NHS risk register "is a cover-up of epic proportions". 

"David Cameron is desperate to keep the NHS risk register secret because he knows that, if people could see the scale of the risks he is taking with the NHS, they would not forgive him," he said.

Because of the interest in the case, the DH has published a document containing key information relating to the areas of risks in the original document, as well as mitigating actions already undertaken and planned for the future. "But it protects the language and form of the Risk Register," the DH said.