The NHS Risk Register has been leaked and, if you’re someone who used to have to read the blasted things in the past, it looks much as you would expect. If you’re coming to it new, it probably looks either boring or scandalous.

Film poster for Risky Business - Copyright 198...
Waiting for the film adaptation

Here’s the contradiction. We want politics to be more open, and for people to be more involved in decision making (well, Demsoc does, at any rate).

You can’t do that without open policy making and open context. So Government should release risk registers.

However, good policy making also demands, as Jill Rutter says in a recent blog, better risk assessment than the routine exercises in afterthought the civil service currently produces (see also: Regulatory Impact Assessments).

Give us less optimism that Ministers are on the right track, says Jill Rutter, more cold-eyed realism about the prospects of the policy collapsing in flames around our ears.

She’s right, of course. Risk registers as Pollyanna stories are no good to anyone … except the Ministers who have to take the heat when they’re released. What’s more, the NHS risk register leak (as an early draft) will make Ministers even more reluctant to release the current version because every difference between the versions will be given the full Kremlinology treatment.

We’re getting the worst of both worlds – badly-done risk analysis that’s kept under wraps. I would rather we had honesty in risk registers, and the guts to release them – failing that do them well and keep them secret. I believe – na├»ve fool that I am – that if thorough risk assessments were made public, journalists would get used to understanding what was in them, after the first few bursts of outrage. But then, I’m not Andrew Lansley.

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