Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

The secret life of the NHS

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 27 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1457
  1. Judy Jones, freelance journalist for the BMJ (

    See also pp 1460, 1480, 1483

    Despite the fact that the Labour party promised greater openness when in opposition, now that it is in government it seems as anxious as its Conservative predecessor to ensure that bad news about the health service is suppressed. In this article and the next, Judy Jones looks at ways in which the government controls what we hear about the NHS and at how it took the health department 10 months to reply to the BMJ's critique of its policy on the private finance initiative.

    When the last Conservative government was in power the BMJ published articles about the suppression of free speech and information and the politicisation of the NHS and health care.1 2 These cited numerous examples, ranging from “gagging” clauses in contracts and suppression of independent reports to people being told, in essence, to keep quiet about service cuts or other matters that were potentially embarrassing to politicians.

    The Labour party's promises of free speech, openness, impartiality, and more democracy and accountability in and around the NHS and elsewhere helped secure the party a landslide victory in the last general election. In the interests of free speech and pursuance of political impartiality, the BMJ has repeated these earlier exercises. We have collected some fresh examples of attempts to prevent disclosure of “public interest” information and of political chicanery since the change of government in May 1997. Against the backcloth of recent rebellion in Labour's ranks over the government's freedom of information bill, we feel it timely to report, once again, on what the government of the day would rather you didn't know.

    Summary points

    The Labour party's promises of openness and more democracy and accountability in the NHS helped secure the party a landslide victory in the last general election, but the …

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