British Medical Association issues FOI guidelines for doctors

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.

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