How to use the Freedom of Information (FOI) act to find out information about the NHS …

What is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000?

The FOI Act allows you to find out information held by public sector organisations that has nothing to do with your personal information.
The FOI Act is not restricted to the NHS. It covers all public sector organisations.

If you’re interested in reading more about the FOI Act, please click in this link http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/legislation/section-46/

Can I find out any information using the FOI Act?

Unfortunately, no.  It has to be information that is already available to the public or it is in the public interest for the  information to available.
The act has sections or restrictions in case it may not be in the public interests to know this information.

What information is exempt from the public interest test under the FOI Act?

  • Your Personal information.  As that is covered by the Subject Access Request ( SAR) of the General Data Protection Regulation. For more information on how to make a subject access request or to use the SAR template click on this link On your marks, get SAR … GO …get your healthcare records.
  • Information that is already widely available to the public eg in the annual reports of public bodies.
  • Information relating to national security.
  • Information held in relation to court proceedings and court records.
  • Information that was told in confidence.

The wish list of public bodies of the restrictions of the FOI act?

Is the information already available?

Try a search engine search to see if the information is already in the public arena.  Or you can try this fantastic site with loads of published FOI requests. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com. 

Although if you make an FOI request for information that is already published, then as requested in the FOI template letter, (FOI template for FtPO)  the response will refer you to the published source.

What does FOI cost?.

the FOI is free of charge but your request cannot be so time-consuming that the organisation’s staff labour costs exceed more than £450 per request.

Why should I make an FOI request?

As you may for example, wish to find out:

  • if your local NHS Hospital has made the same treatment error that they made with you?
  • what is the annual training budget for your GP surgery?
  • or how many staff members wear blue shoes on the second Tuesday of every month?

One Game of Thrones fan sent a Freedom of Information request to their local council in Wigan demanding to know what emergency measures were in place in the event of a dragon attack 😂🤣😂

Is the FOI act of any use to my complaint?

It may not be a useful tool for your initial compliant but it may prove to be very useful if you appeal against the decision.

When my complaints about the poor quality of the medical imaging reports got lost in the complaint shredder, I submitted a freedom of information request asking how many medical imaging complaints were submitted in 2015, in 2016 and in 2017. The response was none in 2015, none in 2016 and none in 2017.  As I had submitted a complaint about the poor quality of medical imaging in 2015 and in 2016 and in 2017, the minimum answer should have been one in 2015, one in 2016 and one in 2017.

What questions should my FOI ask?

  • Ask yourself what do I want to achieve with this information?
  • In other words what questions do you want answered?
  • And is the answer to your question likely to be rejected as it is not in the public interests?

once you know what questions you want answered, you can make a FOI request to find out the answers… Hopefully.

  • Be specific. For example, a really specific request would be ….

how many kitkats did the vending machine in the X Hospital A&E department dispense during February 2018?

  • Sometimes you may need to make two or three requests to achieve all of your answers.
  • Remember this is a request for information, not documents.
  • Make sure that your request is not going to be to labour intensive to research as the request cannot cost somewhere between £450 to £600 in staffing costs.

What now?

  • personalise the FOI template letter.  Click this link to open the FOI template for FtPO
  • add the questions under the FOI Act that you want to be answered.
  • email and send it via signed for mail it to the CEO of the relevant NHS department.

how long do they have to respond?

The NHS Organisation normally has 1 calendar month from the day of acknowledging the request to respond with the information you have requested. Sometimes they will ask for clarification and the one calendar month will only start from the day they have received your explanation.

Breaches of the GDPR and FOI requests by NHS complaints departments are sometimes the only ammunition you will have against the might of the NHS.

The link to the freedom of information template document. FOI template for FtPO

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