Archive for the ‘YRTK’ Category

Patients get new private dentistry rights

Monday, August 1st, 2005

New powers for the General Dental Council (GDC) to protect patients were announced last week by Health Minister Rosie Winterton.

The new powers are designed to solve problems highlighted in a report on the private dentistry market in the UK by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Patients complained that they were not given adequate information to make informed choices about their treatment and often do not know how much their treatment is going to cost. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has made several rulings against private dentists who have obstructively withheld information and/or improperly charged private prices for doing NHS work.

The Order, made under Section 60 of the Health Act, will allow the GDC to establish a complaints scheme for non-NHS patients to complain about their dental care. For example, dentists are expected to agree a patient’s treatment costs in advance. If the patient then finds that the costs substantially exceed this agreed amount they can complain.

Hew Mathewson, President of the General Dental Council said:

“The new powers will enable us to make significant changes to the way we regulate the dental profession – for the benefit of all UK dental patients and the dental professionals who provide their care. Next year will see us introduce a new complaints scheme for patients receiving private dental care and begin to register and regulate new members of the dental team. We have been preparing for these improvements for several years and are delighted now to have the legislation to implement them.”

New contact details: UK Trade & Investment

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

The point of contact for UK Trade & Investment’s Publication Scheme is now:

Caroline Llewellyn
UK Trade & Investment Open Government Team
Bay 155, Kingsgate House
66-74 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6SW
020 7215 2427
[email protected]

UK Trade & Investment is the Government organisation that supports companies in the UK doing business internationally and overseas enterprises seeking to locate in the UK.

There is no direct link on the UK Trade & Investment website to the Publication Scheme or to general information on the public’s right to access information from UK Trade & Investment. The only way I have found to access the Publication Scheme is by conducting a search for the term ‘freedom of information’ from the main website. I have complained about this to Ms Llewellyn and she has said more direct links may be added at the next website review in late 2005.

Cross London Rail Links

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

A debate in Parliament on 28 June 2005 has shed some light on the public accountability (or lack thereof) of Cross London Rail Links Ltd (CLRLL). Crossrail is not wholly owned by any one public authority, and as such is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

However, Derek Twigg (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport) told Parliament that he understands from CLRLL that the board of directors will behave as though it has to conform to the Act. And so it should as it is a 50/50 joint venture owned by Transport for London and the Department for Transport, both public bodies subject to the FOIA.

Romford residents have endured a long wait for details about a depot site elimination as a result of Crossrail, according to MP Barbara Smith. Crossrail is covered by the new Environmental Information Regulations 2004, so it may be better to make enquiries citing this law.

Less accountability for special advisers

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

The Prime Minister has surreptitiously changed the law governing Special Advisors giving them greater power to instruct civil servants.

The legislation – the Civil Service Order in Council – was amended on the 22nd June by the Privy Council but no statement to Parliament or public announcement has yet been made by the Government. This prompted Sir Alistair Graham, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life to issue a scathing statement against the Government:

I am very disappointed that the Government has chosen to make changes to the legislation governing the role of Special Advisers using prerogative powers without any proper parliamentary and public debate on an issue which has been of clear concern to the public, parliament and media for some time. On this important constitutional matter, not only has the Government not consulted Parliament, it has chosen not to tell them about the changes. Even if the intention is not to extend special advisers’ powers, the manner in which the changes have been made could lead to this very perception and consequently a loss of trust in the machinery of Government.

Special Advisers are often better known as ‘spin doctors’ as they work solely for a particular minister and do not have to sign up to the Civil Service Code that requires impartiality. Their power can be immense as seen by the activities of the PM‘s former adviser Alistair Campbell, so it is important that they account for themselves to the public. Instead, they are being given more power and made less accountable! This is a dangerous combination that will further erode the public’s trust in government.

There is also an article about this change in today’s Guardian.

Online Coroners Directory

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Hoorah! The Coroners’ Society of England and Wales has moved into the 21st century and now has an online directory of Coroners and Coroners Officers searchable by county or jurisdiction. It includes addresses, telephone numbers and other contact details.

Bearing in mind that when I wrote Your Right to Know this information was virtually impossible to get hold of, the fact it is now easily available online is encouraging. Readers of the blog will be aware of an earlier post listing a directory that was obtained by filing a Freedom of Information request. It’s good to see that the information is finally available where it should have been in the first place.

Amended Acts

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

The following Acts have been amended to make them compatable with Freedom of Information

Medicines Act 1968

Factories Act 1961: new Section 154A allows public officials and others on their behalf to disclose information under the FOIA

Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963

Health and Safety At Work etc Act 1974: Section 28 amended so information can be disclosed under FOIA.

Biological Standards Act 1975: Section 5 (restrictions on disclosure of information) repealed

National Health Service Act 1977: Amended to allow disclosure under FOIA

Audit Commission Act 1998: Section 49 amended to allow disclosure

Access to Justice Act 1999: Section 20 amended to allow disclosure under the Act after 100 years

Who is a ‘Qualified Person’

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

A section in the Freedom of Information Act gives public authorities the option to exempt certain information if a qualified person believes that releasing it is not in the public interest. Who are these qualified people? Until now, no one was sure. The Department for Constitutional Affairs has just released a list of these ‘qualified’ people on their website. Companies which are owned by a public authority are listed separately. I have not seen any public consultation or debate about how these people were chosen. For all anyone knows, they could have been chosen from a hat. But if you want to give the DCA your opinion, why not email them.

Section 36 is an example of how NOT to draft a FOI law. It is a ‘catch-all’ exemption for information ‘prejuducial to the effective conduct of public affairs’. This definition is purposely vague and far-reaching and guaranteed to undermine the public’s right to know. It can cover pretty much anything and everything, which is just the way politicians like it.

As if the exemption is not bad enough, the ‘qualified person’ is allowed the final say on what is in the public interest. As these are always people associated with the authority rather than the public they are hardly going to be objective. For example the Vice Chancellor of a University can decide whether info is in the public interest when s/he is precisely the person who would most want to keep embarrassing facts under wraps.

Worse yet – when the qualified person is a government minister his or her opinion overrides the decision of the independent Information Commissioner.

Section 36 has to go!

Update: Local Government & FOI

Monday, May 9th, 2005

Several people have asked me if local government access to information laws have been updated yet to make them compatible with the Freedom of Information Act. They have not.

In some situations, local authorities can close a meeting because of a particular document that they would have to release under the FOIA. A government advisory group was set up a couple of years ago to try and resolve these anomalies and the initial deadline for making existing local authority legislation compatible with the FOIA was set for 1 January 2005.

That deadline came and went. A new deadline was set for March, according to Luke Scofield in the Democracy and Local Governance Division, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The General Election announcement put a stop to that. Now a new (slightly vague) date has been set:

‘We’ll be laying it as soon as possible, and it should be in force mid-June,’ Scofield told me.

The amendments to Schedule 12 (a) of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1972 will come in the form of a draft Order that Parliament must approve. As far as I know, the public have not been allowed to see the draft order and our first look will be when it goes for a vote – too late to make any major changes if the Order is badly drafted. The draft order should add a public interest test to the older exemptions and a harm test for some exemptions such as commercial confidence.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been in the situation where they are excluded from meetings based on documents that must be disclosed under the FOIA.

Local Government (Access to Information)(Variation)(Wales)

The situation is more advanced in Wales, however. The draft order which will amend Schedule 12A for councils in Wales is now on the Welsh Assembly website.

British Medical Association issues FOI guidelines for doctors

Friday, May 6th, 2005

The British Medical Association has issued new guidance to General Practitioners (GPs) on the Freedom of Information Act advising them to be open about operation success rate data. My speculation is that the guidelines were issued in response to sustained pressure to end the lack of transparency about this type of information, which I highlighted in my book. A special investigation by the Guardian newspaper revealed that 10 years after the Bristol babies scandal, patients are still being denied the information they need to make an informed choice about heart surgery.

The BMA guidance, ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Frequently Asked Questions’, applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Separate guidance for Scotland is being prepared.

Other aspects of the FOIA are also covered in this FAQ including how to respond to requests for information, exemptions, financial issues and vexatious requests.

The guidance was issued by the BMA’s GP Committee and states that to withhold data on operation success rates (called ‘Quality of Outcomes Framework’ in BMA jargon) ‘could be seen as detrimental to the profession.’ The committee advises practices to be publicly accountable (obviously a novel concept for some).

A managed publication process is planned with the Department of Health. ‘Information will be published annually, most likely in July, by the Primary Care Organisations with the support of the Health and Social Care Information Centre,’ according to the document

E-Health Insider published an article about the new guidance on 4 May 2005.

The BMA itself is not subject to FOI requests because it is a voluntary organisation, however the General Medical Council, the regulatory body for GPs, is covered by the Act.

Who is subject to FOI?

Friday, April 1st, 2005

The Department for Constitutional Affairs added a new webpage today that lists all the bodies subject to the Freedom of Information law.

http://www.foi.gov.uk/coverage.htm

The website includes detail on:

  • Who is subject to the Freedom of Information Act?
  • How to search this list
  • An online guide to coverage
  • Schedule 1 – Public Authorities (this is the latest complete listing of all public bodies covered by the legislation)

The online guide includes a useful directory of the Cabinet Office’s list of government departments and the Cabinet Office’s list of executive agencies.