Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trusts

Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively?

We feel that the Act can be utilised for the purpose that it was intended for by members of the public however it is more often than not abused by the wider audience such as Media and Commercial Companies.

Media requests are regularly used as “fishing expeditions” to identify if there is a story. Quite often they will publish the story before the Trust has responded to the request and will ask the press office for a comment. This can be demoralising for the staff members who undertake the piece of work to collate the information. It regularly occurs that the story may not be published as there is no story to report on.

Commercial Companies are using the legislation to request contractual information at an alarming rate. The questions within these requests can be in their hundreds and extremely time consuming for those involved.

We have seen a significant rise in the number of requests in the last 12 months. The requests can have multiple questions, with this in mind the Trust is now counting question as well as request. In month 1 -10 of 2011/2012 we have received approximately 3000 questions.

This is placing an onerous task on the Trust as the questions are of complex nature and demanding on our resources.

Restructure of current fee regulations—Suggestion to restructure the Publication Scheme by mandating that further information be published, this could be formulated with public consultation as to what they want information on. Anything that was out of that remit could be charged for similar to electronic records requests.

What are the strengths and weaknesses?

The Act has improved the accountability of public authorities to the public and has enabled organisation to become open and transparent allowing public scrutiny.

However due to grey areas within the legislation the Act is open to misinterpretation by everyone as to what can and can not be released.

It would be helpful if additional guidance could be provided regarding who are the data owners of information that is shared across organisations because your Trust may have not input.

The Act is also open to vexatious Applicants therefore we feel it would be more useful for an Applicant to be marked as vexatious rather than on a request by request basis especially if the Trust is engaged in litigation with the Applicant or their family. A similar format to vexatious complainant’s maybe worth investigating.

The complaint process which currently sits with the ICO is a laborious process which needs to be streamlined. We are currently named as a second respondent in a Tribunal Case for a request which was answered in July 2010.

Is the Freedom of information Act operating in the way that it was intended to?

No the Act is not fully operating in the way that the Government had intended. Of the 254 requests that have been received in months 1–10 of 2011/2012, 70 have been from the Media and 80 from Commercial Companies.

Although we accept that the media may in some cases have justifiable requests more often than not as previously stated they are touting for a story. The same can be said for commercial companies.

February 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012