“Transparency lies at the heart of IPSA’s regulatory role,” is the leading claim on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s (IPSA) website. Oh dear – for the new interim CEO is Paul Hayes whose track record in the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) is known more for being… (what’s that euphemism politicians use when they are barred from telling the truth about fellow MPs?)… oh yes… economical with the truth.
For example, in April 2009, Hayes wrote two heavily critical letters to me as editor of Addiction Today (now Intervene) magazine, one to be made public. The reason? The NTA had stated that drug deaths were falling, and had relayed this to justify substitute prescribing rather than drug-free treatment, resulting in guidance to GPs based on these unfounded figures. I printed an article showing that drug deaths were, in fact, rising – and higher than before the NTA and Hayes started in 2001, despite reduced deaths being the NTA’s raison d’etre. Statistics have since validated the relevance of this article: methadone has become the second-greatest drug killer in England and the most prolific cause of drug deaths in Scotland. Could that have been averted in 2009?
Hayes had complained that my article was “wholly untrue”. My response? “I appreciate you wish to disseminate a particular perception but from this [information enclosed] you will understand how a statement that the facts are ‘wholly untrue’ is itself untrue. After seven years of solidly supporting the NTA (is this what you mean by ‘editorial preconceptions’ in your letter?), I was moved by events such as closures of lifesaving services and heartbreaking calls from people seeking help from this charity, to draw impediments to the NTA’s attention. Sadly, instead of working on improvements, it seems to be a case of shooting/vilifying the messenger…
“It is so sad that the NTA is unwilling to take valid points on board, especially when lives are at stake and those points were and are made in a spirit of assistance; instead responses have been denial, unfounded claims and other spin-doctor modus operandi.”
Why did Hayes want his false criticisms to be published? “If we cannot refute the arguments in a paper, we simply discredit the person who wrote it” – Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister.
Also in 2009, the NTA claimed it helped 24,656 people to “complete treatment free from dependency” – but 15,676 of these still used drugs, having switched from their main one, which was all the NTA chose to count. 905 people were counted as “discharged” – they had died. Indeed, in the later NTA Value for Money guidance, two separate pages instructed that patients who died be counted as “in consistent recovery”.
Did Hayes rectify the figures when I drew them to his attention? No. Instead, the way in which figures were reported changed; so that never again could such data be extrapolated.
Sir Humphrey: If local authorities don’t send us the statistics that we ask for, then government figures will be a nonsense”.
Sir Humphrey: They’ll be incomplete.
Jim: But government figures are a nonsense anyway.
Bernard: I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they’re a complete nonsense.
In 2010, Hayes refused to make outcome measures “fit for purpose” so that politicians and public alike could see for themselves what worked and what did not work in freeing addicts from drugs . There also remain 20 questions which the NTA never answered under Hayes’ command, even though these are about saving lives:
There are more examples starting perhaps when I gave evidence to BBC Home Affairs editor Mark Easton so he could quiz Hayes on the Today programme on his abysmal performance.
Suffice it to say that the NTA’s failings became so patent that it was abolished by the current government. What does this augur for IPSA?