Panorama, Perry Mason and the curious case of Government Consultations

Panorama, Perry Mason and the curious case of Government Consultations

A few weeks ago there was a Panorama special on sports supplements. It was a corker, which sought to closely scrutinise some of the claims made by the manufacturers. Needless to say the programme makers uncovered quite a few exaggerated claims on the products’ packaging.

One of the scenes that stood out most in mind was when a researcher at Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine asked a well known pharmaceutical company for more information about the effectiveness of a well-known sports drink that it produces and received what they referred to as a classic ‘information dump’.

For the uninitiated this is when someone under the guise of being helpful actually gives you too much information. So much information in fact that it serves to obfuscate important stuff and can easily befuddle, bewilder and bemuse. It also happens to be a great tactic when playing the board game, Balderdash. I forget the number of times I have managed wrestle points away from other unsuspecting players through deploying this tactic.

I’m not suggesting the Government is following this method deliberately for unscrupulous reasons, but their approach to consulting the public would certainly win a game of Balderdash with consummate ease and I confess to having been flummoxed on a number of occasions.

For instance, I can imagine the fictional defence attorney Perry Mason stepping forward and holding up a document in a zip-lock pocket: “Exhibit A, your Honour. I would like to present to the people of the jury the consultation on liberating the NHS: No decision about me without me”. Cue faint gasps and murmurs–someone in the viewing gallery faints and has to be hauled outside for some fresh air.

This humdinger turned out to be around 80 pages long (including the accompanying impact assessment), which is not long compared to many others. However, it is the contents of this document that is really interesting, proving that what is in the title is not always what is inside.

Soon after the consultation came out in May this year people from across the health sector began to read it and started to come up with similar conclusion: the contents had very little to do with shared decision-making (the method by which clinicians and patients work together to select tests, treatments and support packages, based on clinical evidence and patients’ informed preferences).

Instead, it focused almost exclusively on mechanisms to ensure patient choice of providers, which is very different. A fear was therefore expressed by some quarters that the Government had elided the meaning of the term shared decision-making, carrying a risk that this important central concept in the health reforms would be removed from Clinical Commissioning Groups’ responsibility and kicked into the long-grass.

As you would expect, the sector came together and made its concerns known to the relevant Health Minister (in this case Earl Howe) who said he would look into the matter. As a result the Government has now taken the unusual step of extending the consultation deadline for ‘No decision about me without me’ until the end of August, which we will of course be responding to.

So, what’s the point I am trying to make? Well, for any budding campaigners out there, when it comes to dealing with government consultations, you need to arm yourself with a healthy dose of scepticism and always make sure you read between the lines. Just like in Balderdash, don’t be blinded by the waffle. An answer may be long, but that doesn’t always mean it will be the most accurate.

3 Replies

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  • Wow! I don't live in England, but I sure admire the super-sleuthing technigue to uncover what is really going on. Perry Mason: always comes up with the answer to the expose! L.

  • Sadly its all true !!! keep going to try to make sense of it for all us with RA you are doing a great job

  • Yes sadly it's all true. :-(

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