Poole Hospital NHS Trust, which acts as the lead for the South-West NHS pay cartel, continues to act disgracefully in its responses – or more accurately, non-responses – to Freedom of Information Act requests concerning its dealings with, and activities on behalf of, the cartel. Today, it responded to two of my FOI requests – responses which are mind-boggling in their evasiveness and opacity.
We know we’re wrong and we don’t care
The first response concerns my request for copies of the email correspondence of key personnel within the Trust who play key roles in the running of the cartel or its communications – the CEO, communications lead and the CEO’s personal assistant.
The Trust’s original response advised that it would only take an hour to identify the information I requested, but that checking and redacting it would take 100 hours – well in excess of the 18-hour time limit provided by the FOI Act. However, I pointed out to them that the legal guidance that the Trust itself had arranged for cartel members stated that only the time needed to identify the information could be counted against the 18-hour limit. The advice (from Bevan Brittan, the legal firm appointed to provide advice to the cartel) went on to specifically state that time for checking and redacting could not be included.
The Trust’s response to my pointing out its own legal advice?
“I am writing to advise you that the latest communication from the Trust Directors is that the Trust abides by its original position.”
In other words, “We know and we don’t care“!
If one excuse won’t stand up, here’s another!
The 2nd response relates to my request for information on certain meetings and discussions conducted by the cartel, about which I knew because of other FOI requests. These were as follows:
1) Notes of David Amos’ [the consultant appointed by the cartel to assist in devising its pay-cutting plans) ‘1:1s’ with SWC Human Resources Directors.
2) Notes/presentations from Mr Amos’ meeting with Nigel Edwards of the Kings Fund.
3) Notes of the ‘Meetings (telcons) held with DH, FTN and NHSE’
4) Notes from the conference which took place at Bevan Brittan’s office on 18 Sep [to discuss cartel issues]
5) Notes from Mr Amos’ discussions with selected directors of nursing.
Poole Trust’s initial response said that:
– Mr Amos does not make any notes of his meetings or discussions (!!!)
– Nobody made any notes of the meetings
– No notes were made for the conference
I basically responded ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’, as there is simply no way that:
– a highly-paid consultant who used to work for the Department of Health and in highly-paid positions in the NHS simply commits everything to memory and never makes a note
– meetings are held with the government’s Department of Health, the national NHS Employers organisation and the Foundation Trust Network (the national membership body for NHS Foundation Trusts), 3 important entities, and not a single note was made of the meetings
– a conference is arranged to help Trusts with issues relating to the cartel’s aims without presentation materials, PowerPoint presentations, or handouts, and without any notes being made of the ensuing discussions
So I requested an internal review, the first step of the complaint process. I know this is getting a bit long, but please bear with me as it’s worth it. My request for a review ran as follows:
“Thank you for your message. Your conclusions appear to be self-contradictory. You state:
“15th October 2012 E-mail from Caldicott Guardian to Information Governance requesting confirmation that no records are held on Trust premises
15th October 2012 E-mail from Information Governance to Caldicott Guardian stating that the Chief Executive and Communications Lead have confirmed that no such records are held.
16th October 2012 Information released to applicant
18th October 2012 Request by applicant for formal review
18th October 2012 E-mail from Information Governance to Chief Executive and Communications Lead asking for confirmation that no request information is held
18th October 2012 Confirmation from Chief Executive and Communications Lead that no such information is held
18th October 2012 E-mail from Chief Executive to Information Governance requesting clarity on the taking of notes and the Freedom of Information status on private consultants taking notes when contracted to a Public Authority
18th October 2012 Telephone call between Information Governance and Information Commissioner asking for confirmation of understanding of what notes fall within the Act, and the position of private consultants doing work for public authorities. The ICO confirmed Information Governance’s understanding on both counts.
18th October 2012 Review sent to Caldicott Guardian for approval.”
However, your original response to my FOI request states that Mr Amos does not take notes, that no notes were taken of the meetings with DH, FT & NHSE nor of the conference held at Bevan Brittan’s premises.
Your response to the internal review request states that you asked for advice regarding the status of notes taken by consultants acting on behalf of a public body – this suggests that Mr Amos DID take notes. Your response also fails to clarify what the advice was – or what your opinion was that was apparently confirmed by the ICO’s office. However, notes taken while acting as an agent of the Trust must certainly be subject to the same FOI provisions as notes taken by an employee.
Your response stated that no notes were taken nor are held by the Trust with regard to the meetings or the conference. As Poole Trust is acting as both overall and communications lead for the South West PTC Consortium, this beggars belief. No such meetings or conference could possibly take place without any notes or presentation materials at all.
Please reconsider, otherwise I will have no option but to complain to the ICO and to publicise the refusal.”
The response received today? Hmmmmm.
“According to the Directors posiiton on the outstanding issue, the consortium is not a legal entity. Poole are hosting the SWC and are therefore the employers of the CEO and Communications Lead. The CEO has
one legal position as Chief Exec of Poole.”
Not a word about whether notes were taken, not a word about consultants, meetings or conferences. Instead, we get a complete change of tactic used to refuse to provide the information.
I’ve replied, basically saying once again, ‘Don’t be ridiculous!”:
“Thank you for your message. I’m afraid it’s not acceptable to suddenly switch to a completely different reason for not responding.
Moreover, while the Consortium may not yet be a legal entity, Poole Trust has issued communications about and on behalf of the Consortium and your CEO and communications lead are acting on its behalf, including messages about the meetings, calls and conference about which I requested the information. Someone made notes of these on behalf of the consortium and/or the Trust, and I am entitled to receive them under the FOI Act.
Finally, David Amos has been appointed to act on behalf of the consortium. Either the consortium exists for him to act on its behalf, or else Poole Trust is acting ‘in loco‘.
Please provide the information by return.”
If – as seems very likely – I’m not happy with the response to this, I’ll complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about the Trust’s conduct concerning this request, just as I’ve already complained about their conduct with the first one.
However, one thing is already very clear: Poole has something to hide.
The Trust has shown itself to be prepared to lie in response to FOI requests, then change its story part-way through in order to try to avoid providing information on its internal communications within the cartel – and then to change to yet another tack when that didn’t deter me.
It has also shown itself willing to completely ignore the legal advice for which it had already spent public money, in order to ‘abide by its original position‘ of refusing to provide information on grounds which its own lawyers told it that it can’t use.
If it walks like a duck… The cartel has claimed to be acting with integrity and transparency in its dealings with its staff and their unions, and has consistently said it wants to engage with them to find a solution that works. But I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Interweb, that an organisation acting decently and transparently has no need to be so deceitful and so evasive.
Wherever you live, please write to your MP (you can find who it is via www.theyworkforyou.com and their contact details on www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/) and demand that they oppose regional pay in general and the actions of the South-West cartel (and its mirror in the North-East!) in specific.
And find out what’s being done near you to protest and resist the government’s disgraceful treatment of the NHS, and get involved.