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Family or FOI?

Martin Rosenbaum | 10:38 UK time, Friday, 22 December 2006

The junior health minister Lord (Norman) Warner is soon leaving his job. Last week it was announced that he would stand down at the end of this year, because he wants 'to spend more time with his family rather than red boxes'.

Some people may wonder if his resignation has anything to do with an interview he gave to Newsnight on 24 May this year about the NHS's slow progress in its 'Choose-and-Book' project. This allows GPs referring patients to make an electronic booking of outpatient appointments with specialists, with a range of choices over hospital and timing.

The government set a target of 90 per cent of GP referrals being made through Choose and Book by March 2007. However earlier this year using freedom of information the BBC discovered that as of April 2006 only 9 per cent were being made through this scheme.

Lord Warner responded by telling Newsnight that he was still confident that they would reach 75 per cent by the end of the year and 90 per cent by March 2007. Asked by Jeremy Paxman if he would resign if this didn't happen, he replied: "Probably I will have to, won't I?"

I have now obtained from the Department of Health the following monthly figures for the proportion of GP referrals made through Choose and Book:
Apr-06 9%
May-06 12%
Jun-06 17%
Jul-06 19%
Aug-06 23%
Sep-06 25%
Oct-06 27%
Nov 06 30%

Well, the figures are going up, but the target of 90 per cent looks even more unlikely than it did back in May.

Maybe it's all a coincidence and this has no connection to his resignation; maybe he's resigned now before he would have been forced out in March 2007; or maybe when he was under questioning from Paxman back in May, Lord Warner already knew that he was planning to be gone by then anyway.

But as he now enjoys the company of his family he can also be happy that he's not having to spend time on dealing with any more FOI requests in his red boxes.

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