Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group’s Freedom of Information and Complaints Manager is Kathryn Tucker.
When holding the same position at NHS Bristol Primary Care Trust (PCT), Ms Tucker provided this advice to a colleague, Lindsey Scott (1) regarding a request to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a review of the PCT’s decision that a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request (2) was “vexatious” under Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000:
“The requester is only able to request a review of each individual response, whereas when providing our supporting evidence we are able to provide evidence of previous requests and other correspondence as examples of context.”
In other words Ms Tucker advised Ms Scott that the ICO treated FOI requesters and public authorities differently when reviewing an authority’s decision to deem an FOI request “vexatious”.
This seems odd and unfair to requesters so I asked the ICO for its policy (3). The ICO eventually confirmed that no such policy was held and that “The public authority’s statement is inaccurate.”
The ICO also stated that “although we consider all FOIA complaints on a case by case basis, this doesn’t mean that we won’t take the requester’s view of the public authority’s previous behaviour into account when looking at cases involving section 14.”
Members of the public whose FOI requests have been deemed “vexatious” by public authorities can judge how often the ICO genuinely takes into account the requester’s view (and evidence) of a public authority’s previous behaviour.
I provided all the above information in a document to the CCG at its public question time held on 28th July 2015 and raised the question of whether Ms Tucker knowingly misrepresented the facts to Ms Scott or whether she simply did not check them. Either way I asked what specific action the CCG would take to ensure that the public will be protected from such inappropriate behaviour in response to FOI requests in future and I invited the CCG to contact me if it wished to meet me to discuss the matter.
On 12th August 2015, the CCG’s Chair, Dr Martin Jones replied to the document saying “what was stated was factually accurate”. He did not clarify which statement made by whom he regarded as factually accurate. He also seemed to suggest that Ms Tucker’s actions when Freedom of Information Manager for Bristol PCT have no bearing on her ability to perform the same role for Bristol CCG.
I replied to Dr Jones pointing out that when a person is discovered to have made an error, it is normal to apologise and take action to reduce the risk of recurrence. I reminded Dr Jones that I had provided the CCG with documentary evidence that its Freedom of Information Manager, Kathryn Tucker misrepresented facts in advice she gave to a senior NHS manager regarding a Freedom of Information appeal; and I made the obvious point that such behaviour undermines public confidence in her ability to perform that role as the CCG’s FOI Manager because it poses a risk to the CCG’s ability to respond appropriately to FOI requests.
The point is lost on Dr Jones because Bristol CCG’s leaders (4) remain embedded in the dysfunctional culture which lives on in many parts of the NHS – defend, deny and never apologise, even when staff have been found to have spread misinformation in their role as a Freedom of Information Manager.
Dr Jones’ response is not surprising. Bristol CCG’s attitude to the public it serves is already well known (5).