Justice CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Debbie Pugh-Jones

1. Summary of main points: Whilst I welcome the Freedom of Information Act which enables the public to have a right to know what is going on in publicly funded bodies I believe that it is being misused by commercial companies for financial gain.

The increasing number of requests from commercial companies are actually costing public authorities valuable resources which are being used to commercial advantage in the private sector.

2. My involvement: Yeovil District Hospital is a small acute hospital which employs around 2,000 staff and has 350 beds. One of my roles is responsibility for ensuring that the hospital complies with the Freedom of Information Act and responds to enquiries within the 20-day deadline.

3. The issue: The number of Freedom of Information requests we are receiving has increased significantly over the years from 26 in 05/06 to 250 in ll/12. The requests are now becoming far more detailed with numerous questions—however it is always difficult to evidence that it will take more than the 18-hour limit to comply with the request.

Requests were initially received from the media, individuals, health related organisations and politicians. However we are seeing an increasing number of requests which are obviously of a commercial nature.

For example:

In the last six weeks we have had four requests about how much we have spent on different categories of agency staff over a number of years; asking who our suppliers are and when the contracts are due for renewal.

We receive about one request a month asking for detailed information on our IT systems, suppliers, costs and contracts

We have had numerous requests from drug companies asking how much we pay for our drugs and the quantities we use

We are also seeing an increasing number of requests from companies asking about referral pathways and prescribing guidelines. They are asking to publish the information on commercial databases. Some of these companies are submitting requests on a regular basis.

Whilst some of these requests can be answered by administrators on many occasions I have to ask hard-pressed clinicians and pharmacy staff to provide me with very detailed information about drugs and treatments for commercial requesters. I have great concerns about this because clinicians should be concentrating on patient care and I believe this is a misuse of their valuable time.

4. Recommendations: To resolve this issue the Act needs to be amended to prevent this sort of misuse. The Act should not be a resource for commerce to gain from.

January 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012