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Effect of NHS reforms on FOI rights

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has written to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, expressing concern that the public’s rights to information about the NHS are likely to be “increasingly constricted” by the reforms in the Health and Social Care Bill.

Under the reforms, NHS services will be provided either by NHS bodies or by independent providers under contract. The NHS bodies which commission services will themselves be subject to the FOI Act though the independent providers will not. However, the providers will be contractually required to provide information to the commissioning bodies to help them answer FOI requests.

The standard NHS contract already contains a clause requiring providers to do this. But according to the Campaign, the clause appears to apply only to the specific information which the contract itself requires a provider to hold or report on. While numerous items of information are specified – for example, about the quality of the service, treatment times, complaints, MRSA infections and other matters – it does not cover the full range of information that would be available under FOI from an NHS body itself.

In the letter, the Campaign calls on the government to extend the disclosure provision so that FOI rights in relation to independent providers’ NHS work is as wide as that of NHS bodies themselves. The Campaign director Maurice Frankel says:

“Suppose there is concern about the use of potentially contaminated medical supplies by hospitals. For an NHS hospital, the FOI Act could be used to obtain details of stocks of the product, the number of doses administered, the numbers of affected patients, the quality control measures in place, correspondence with suppliers, minutes of meetings at which the problem was discussed and information showing what measures were considered, what action was taken, how promptly and with what results.

This level of information would clearly not be available in relation to independent providers treating NHS patients. This would represent a major loss of existing information rights.”

Read the letter here.

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