Health authority's FoI test is branded a 'dismal failure'

EDP assistant editor Paul D

An attempt by the Eastern Daily Press to test whether its local health
authority was ready to cope with freedom of information requests ended
in “dismal failure”, according to the paper.

The EDP persuaded Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic
Health Authority to hold a “dry run” to see how prepared the body was
for the act. The Freedom of Information Act becomes law on 1 January

EDP assistant editor Paul Durrant said: “We cooked up a question
asking the SHA how many executives were now employed in the three
counties earning more than £50,000 a year, compared to three years ago
before Primary Care Trusts were introduced and we had three individual
county-based health authorities.

“We suspected the figure has grown significantly with the multiplication of chief execs, finance directors and the like.”

“Sadly, but maybe not surprisingly, the new authority took well over
the 20-day rule to respond – and only then to tell us they did not
believe they had the information we wanted.”

The request for information was made by EDP health correspondent
Mark Nicholls, who was told by health authority chief executive Peter
Davies: “Sorry about the delay. I think I have failed at the first

Davies said authority officials believed the information existed,
but needed to refer to old payroll records, and the SHA was not sure to
whom they belonged. He was helpful in suggesting to Nicholls the name
and phone number of the payroll company he believed held the data.

Mr Davies added: “In my view, regardless of FoI, this is information
which you are entitled to be given under the NHS openness code and
quite clearly is in the public interest”.

Durrant said: “It was good of Peter Davies to embark on this dry run
with us, but if this is the best his organisation can do, it does not
bode well for January when the act kicks in. “This attempt was a dismal
failure and, despite Peter’s co-operation, it shows the mind-set and
attitude of others within his organisation. It took well over 20 days
for them to tell us they didn’t know and couldn’t help”

By Dominic Ponsford

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