The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 provides the general public with a right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities, which includes NHS organisations. However, it excludes personal information about individuals and environmental information. This right to access information is not restricted - in fact, anyone, anywhere in the world can apply.
The legislation aims to promote openness, transparency and accountability within the public sector and to provide a better understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why certain decisions are made and how public money is spent. The main principle behind it is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities.
Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities. This means that:
- Everybody has a right to access official information.
- An applicant (requester) does not need to give a reason for wanting the information or mention/make reference to the FOI Act.
- All requests should be considered as motive and applicant blind, and must be treated equally. The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by who they are. We must treat all requesters equally, whether they are companies, journalists, local residents, public authority employees, or our staff.
- We should consider any information we release under the Act as if it were being released to the world at large.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and audio and video recordings.
An individual's rights to confidentiality under the Data Protection legislation, Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and the Common Law Duty of Confidentiality are not affected by the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act does not allow public bodies to release personal information about an individual.
The Act places two main obligations on public authorities:
- Publish certain information proactively through the adoption and maintenance of a Publication Scheme which sets out details of information that is routinely made available, how and where the information can be obtained and whether there is any charge for it
- Respond to requests for information where by the public authority must inform the applicant in writing whether it holds the information requested and if so, and not exempt from disclosure, communicate that information to the applicant promptly but not later than 20 working days after receipt of the request
The Trust has a statutory obligation to support these commitments by complying with all Freedom of Information requests it receives. Release of this information can help us demonstrate why certain decisions have been made and that the services we provide are efficiently and appropriately delivered. The Trust has a Freedom of Information Procedure to ensure compliance with the legislation.
If the information required cannot be located on our website or within our Publication Scheme, an individual may submit a request for information. Under the Act, for a request to be valid it must:
- Be in writing - either an email, letter or via our website
- Include the requester's real name
- Include an address for correspondence – either an email or postal address
- Describe the information requested
Individuals wishing to submit a request for information should use one of the following methods:
- Email: FOI@nwbh.nhs.uk
- Information Governance Team(Freedom of Information)
North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- Information Governance Team(Freedom of Information)
- Online: What Do They Know website
All staff need to be aware of and comply with the Freedom of Information Procedure, remain vigilant and be aware that:
- Requests may be received directly by departments, services or teams. In such cases, the request must be forwarded immediately to IG Team (Freedom of Information).
- It is essential that the IG Team (Freedom of Information) receive all requests promptly and in good time to ensure they are logged and to comply with the statutory deadlines for responding.
- Requests do not have to mention the Freedom of Information Act to be valid.
Any queries for guidance or advice on making a request should be directed to the IG Team (Freedom of Information).
The Trust has 20 working days to respond and comply with FOI requests to ensure the statutory deadline within the Act is met.
Managers are requested to monitor and review FOI compliance regularly to ensure requests are responded to promptly and compliance with the 20 working day deadline is adhered to. Staff guidance is available that provides practical advice on how to recognise and handle requests for information under the legislation.
Occasionally, we may require further information or clarification from the requestor and we will contact them promptly for this information. At this point, the clock will stop and the 20 day time limit will not begin until the further information we need is provided by them.
There may be occasions when we may refuse all or part of a request and decide not to disclose the requested information, for example if:
- One or more exemptions apply. There are 23 specific exemptions that allow us to withhold information, some of which are absolute (e.g. requests for personal information would be refused using the Section 40 'personal information' exemption) and others which are qualified and require us to consider if it is in the public interest to disclose the information (e.g. commercially sensitive unit prices that may be refused under Setoon 43 'prejudice commercial interests' exemption). All requests for information will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- The cost of complying with the request exceeds the appropriate limit of 18 hours (Section 12 exemption). This time limit includes determining whether the information is held, locating the information, retrieving the information and extracting the information from any document/system containing it. However, it does not include time deciding whether any exemptions apply, redacting exempt information or carrying out the public interest test
- The request is vexatious or repeated (Section 14 exemption).
Environmental information is exempt information under Section 39 of the FOI Act and any request for environmental information must be dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations regime.
The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) provide the general public with a right of access to all types of environmental information held by public authorities, including NHS organisations. Again this right to access information is not restricted and anyone, anywhere in the world can apply.
The definition of environmental information is broad and relates to anything that impacts on the environment (for example emissions, noise, building projects, health and safety, etc.) rather than just the physical environment. Examples of environmental information include:
- Elements of the environment - air, water, soil, land, flora and fauna
- Energy, noise, radiation and waste
- Emissions and discharges
- Human health
- Built structures
The regulations place a number of obligations on public authorities and promote the release of as much environmental information as possible, subject to a range of exceptions, to enable increased public participation in environmental decision making.
Under the regulations, requests can be made either in writing or verbally and, upon receipt, we have 20 working days to provide the information an individual asks for.