Devon NHS trust misleads to try to block FOI re SW pay cartel

Devon Partnership NHS Trust has tried to abuse the ‘commercial interest’ exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, and to point to ‘public’ information on its websites that is not there, to avoid answering my FOI request for information on its communications with the South-West NHS-pay cartel. Here’s the response I got:

We confirm that this Trust holds documents as specified in your request. 
However, we are withholding that information since we consider that exemptions set 
out below apply to the information contained in those documents. 
Section  21(1)  –  some  of  the  information  sought  is  information  which  is  reasonably 
accessible  to  you  otherwise  than  under  section  1  of  the  Act.    Minutes  and  related 
documents from trust board sessions held in public which may refer to the south west 
pay  terms  and  conditions  consortium  are  available  on  the  Trust  website
http://www.devonpartnership.nhs.uk/.    In  addition  to  this  a  new  website  – 
www.meetingthechallenge.info – has been established which aims to provide as much 
detail  as  possible  on  the  work  of  the  consortium,  including  an  FAQ  and  latest  news 
Section 41(1) – insofar as the information held is not  published as set out above it is 
exempt  from  disclosure  as  it  comprises  information  which  has  been  obtained  from 
others  in  confidence  and  disclosure  to  the  public  would  constitute  an  actionable 
breach of confidence 
Section 43(2) – further or alternatively, insofar as the information held is not published 
as set out above it is exempt from disclosure as it comprises information the disclosure 
of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of the Trust 
and/or other parties to the Consortium.

(emphases mine)

I have requested a review (a necessary step before referring the matter to the Information Commissioner) as follows:

Dear Devon Partnership NHS Trust,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of
Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Devon Partnership NHS
Trust’s handling of my FOI request ‘Communications with the SW Pay,
Terms & Conditions Consortium’.

Public board meetings can be excluded from the request, but the
remainder of the information required is most definitely of public
interest. Commercially sensitive figures might be omitted, but the
substance of the communications should be disclosed. If the Trust
is having discussions it would be embarrassed to have made public,
then the public should be able to decide whether it should be
having those discussions in the first place.

Furthermore, as public entities, the Trust should not have
‘commercial interests’ that it wishes to withhold from the public.
Details of its costs, expenditures, plans and surpluses are matters
of public interest. An NHS Trust is not a profit-making entity (at
least yet!) and should be fully publicly accountable.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is
available on the Internet at this address:

Yours faithfully,

Steve Walker

15 August 2012


As an addendum to my appeal for review of your decision, please
note that a search on your website
http://www.devonpartnership.nhs.uk/ for ‘consortium’ does not
return a single result. The information is therefore not held on
this site.

Moreover, the ‘Meeting the Challenge’ website does not provide
copies of any of the requested communications – I requested copies
of communications, not of press releases.

Your presumption of exemption on the grounds that some of the
information is available through other means is therefore invalid.

Please provide the requested information by return.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Walker

The Trust has admitted to having the information, but uses 2 false grounds to dodge the request. Clearly the information must be very incriminating, and if they fail to disclose the information after the appeal, I will complain to the Information Commissioner. This is too big a matter to simply let it drop because they try to wriggle out of it.


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