The Code of Conduct for NHS Managers says:
“As an NHS manager, I will observe the following principles: make the care and safety of patients my first concern and act to protect them from risk…………”
In 2009 barrister Jane Mishcon was commissioned by University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust to chair an inquiry into allegations of diagnostic problems in its Histopathology Service. For reasons which have not been explained she did not examine and report on available evidence which indicates that some senior NHS Managers in University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, North Bristol NHS Trust and Bristol Primary Care Trust did not make the care of patients their first concern when they knew about allegations of diagnostic problems. These allegations were proved to be correct.
On behalf of SWWHAG I used the Freedom of Information Act to try to obtain the essential information about the conduct of senior managers that is missing from Jane Mishcon’s report – What did they do when they knew about the allegations? What are the reasons for their actions, or inaction? Did they try to silence and suppress whistleblowers?
University Hospitals Bristol deems my questions not “reasonable” and “contrary to the interests of the Trust”. It has removed me from its members’ register. Most of the senior managers who refuse to explain their actions and be held accountable for them are still in senior posts in local NHS organisations and quangos. Patients and the public can judge from this whether the culture of the NHS has changed in Bristol since the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry.
The Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal, which reviews Freedom of Information Appeals, upheld University Hospitals Bristol’s, North Bristol’s and Bristol Primary Care Trust’s position not to provide the information requested on the grounds that the requests were either “vexatious”, or for data protection reasons. In other words it might be vexing and upsetting to the managers concerned if patients and the public found out the truth about their conduct.
The Information Tribunal asked me to provide the reasons for my requests and this is my response.
The Information Tribunal was not persuaded by my reasons and I still did not get the information requested. Nevertheless I acquired plenty of information about how the Freedom of Information Act is interpreted by public organisations, the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal.
The Freedom of Information Act says that any person making a request for information to a public organisation is entitled to be informed in writing whether it holds information which fits the description specified in the request, and if that is the case, to receive that information.
However there are a some exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act which allow a public organisation to evade both the legal requirement to confirm whether or not the information requested is held and the application of a public interest test. Section 14, the “vexatious” exemption, is one of them.
This means that any NHS organisation that doesn’t want patients and the public to know whether its senior managers made patients their first concern and acted to protect them from risk of harm can simply squeal “vexatious,” and the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal will quash the request.
Daphne Havercroft, SWWHAG Member.
© South West Whistleblowers Health Action Group 2014