Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wells report on NHSU - IC Decision

The Information Commissioner has just released a "Decision notice" (Ref: FS50070878) relating to my request to the Department of Health to disclose the report by Sir William Wells into the NHS university (NHSU) which will appear on the Decision Notices section of their web site soon.

The creation of the NHSu was a 2001 Labour Manifesto commitment.

The Commissioner has ruled that under section 1(1) and 10 of the Freedom of Information Act:

1. The Department has not complied with its' obligations under section 1(1) of the Act in that it failed to communicate to the complainant information to which he was entitled on the basis that it is exempt from disclosure under sections 33, 35(1)(a), 40(2) and 41 of the Act.

In view of this he requires that:

The Department shall, within 35 calender days from the date of the notice (27th Nov 2006) disclose the information requested in accordance with its duty under section 1(1) of the Act.

I will not reproduce the full decision notice here - it runs to 15 pages of legal jargon and will appear on their web site soon, but I do want to give a few significant highlights.

I believe this is currently the longest running complaint.
I originally contacted my MP in Oct 2004
I sent my initial letter to the DoH on 1st Jan 2005 & they rejected my request
I appealed and they again refused (27th April 2005)

I first wrote to the Information Commissioner on 8th April 2005 and there have been various communications since.

I believe this is the first test of section 33(1) of the act which relates to audit functions of statutory bodies, and the commissioner has agreed with me that this should be disclosed to the public. It is not yet clear how much the NHSU cost but estimates of £50-£60 million pounds of taxpayers money do not seem fanciful. Maybe when we see the full report this will become clear.

During the course of the commissioners investigations the department claimed that in addition to section 33 of the act other sections applied eg 35(1) (formulation of government policy) for the entire report and sections 40(2) (personal information) and 41 (information provided in confidence) for parts of the report.

Although the commissioner accepted that some of the sections were relevant to the report in all cases he said that the public interest in disclosure was greater than the public interest in maintaining the exemption.

If the department disagrees with the Information Commissioners report they have 28 days to appeal - I hope they do not choose to exercise this right, as this has gone on long enough - however I am worried that some government lawyers will see this ruling as setting precedents which may be applied to other government departments and processes and will not be as open as I would like them to be.

I look forward to seeing the Wells report on the Department of Health Web Site as I hope there are many lessons we can learn for the future.

I still support the NHS and many of the declared aims of the NHSu although I have some doubts about the way in which it was implemented.

I will comment again here when I finally see details of the report.

I would like to say that although it has been a long wait I recognise that the Information Commissioner has received a massive number of complaints and I would like to compliment and thank the particular "Complaints Team Leader - Central Government" who has dealt with this complaint throughout in a professional and courteous way.

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  • Congratulations, Rod - I look forward to finally seeing the report.

    By Blogger Peter, at 10:38 pm  

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