Presentation on theme: "Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the PCT Audit Procedure Background: The Act was passed in November 2000. The Act will be fully in force by January."— Presentation transcript:
Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the PCT Audit Procedure Background: The Act was passed in November 2000. The Act will be fully in force by January 2005. The Act: gives a general right of access to all types of 'recorded' information held by public authorities sets out exemptions from that right places a number of obligations on public authorities All health bodies are covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act: Access to personal and patient information is still governed by the Data Protection Act 1998. The Act will be enforced by the Information Commissioner. Both the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act relate to information handling and this dual role will allow the Information Commissioner to provide an integrated and coherent approach. When the relevant provisions of the Act are brought into force there is likely to be a very high demand for information as the boundaries are tested. It is important that NHS bodies have the systems in place to fully comply with the new statutory requirements.
‘Publication Scheme’ By October 2003 all NHS bodies will have to have a ‘publication scheme’ in place (effectively a guide to the information they hold which is publicly available). This sets out: the type of information the authority publishes or intends to publish the form in which the information is published details of any charges The Act creates a statutory right to know whether information is held and, if it is, to have it communicated (the right to receive the information).
Dates: The duty to adopt a ‘publication scheme’ will come into force first. For the NHS the dates are set out as: Submissions accepted from 1st June 2003 Final deadline 31st August 2003 Scheme active in October 2003 All public authorities will be required to deal with individual requests from 1st January 2005.
Preparing for Implementation: Every public authority will be required to adopt and maintain a publication scheme. The purpose of a scheme is to ensure a significant amount of information is available, without the need for a specific request. Schemes are intended to encourage organisations to publish more information pro-actively and to develop a greater culture of openness.
Audit and the PCT: The PCT must be aware of the information it holds, in order to determine which documents relate to each other to support the corporate plans for the PCT. An initial stage of work for the Act is to conduct an audit of corporate information held, to inform the publication scheme. This will serve multi purposes, including CHI information needs, Controls Assurance, race & equality, Knowledge Management, and Internet / Extranet needs.
Drawing up the Publication Scheme: Public Authorities need to identify key members of staff to produce and implement the publication scheme. Publication schemes are not static and will require maintenance and revision. The largest concentration of effort will come at the beginning, therefore commitment of adequate resources is essential. It is necessary for all staff within a public authority to be aware of the Freedom of Information Act and in particular the authority’s publication scheme.
What sort of information is likely to be requested? Role, function and management of the public authority Dealing with the public and Parliament Development and implementation of policy Legislation relevant to the function of the body Procurement, grants, loans and guarantees Freedom of Information Act implementation and operation
Responding to requests: In general, public authorities will have to respond to requests promptly and in any event, within 20 working days. If a fee is required, the 20 working days will be extended by up to 3 months until the fee is paid. The body is not obliged to comply with vexatious requests or repeated or substantially similar requests from the same person other than at reasonable intervals.
What types of information need not be released? Some of the information held by a public authority may be regarded as exempt information i.e. it will not have to be provided in response to an individual request. There are 23 such exemptions and they relate to information held for a variety of functions, covering national security, law enforcement, commercial interests, personal data, international relations, formulation of Government policy. However, public bodies will be expected to show that they have considered the public interest in disclosure when arriving at a decision, even when the information requested may fall in one of the exemption areas.
The Exemptions Apart from vexatious or repeated requests, to which an authority need not respond, there are two general categories of exemption: those where, even though an exemption exists, a public authority has a duty to consider whether disclosure is required in the public interest and those where there is no duty to consider the public interest. a) Exemptions where the public interest test applies - The majority of exemptions fall into this category e.g. Information intended for future publication; Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities; Commercial interests. Where a public authority considers that the public interest in withholding the information requested outweighs the public interest in releasing it, the authority must inform the applicant of its reasons, unless to do so would mean releasing the exempt information.
… The Exemptions b) The ‘Absolute Exemptions’ - These are the exemptions where, if the exemption applies, it is not necessary to go on to consider disclosure in the public interest e.g. Information accessible to applicant by other means; Personal information (where the applicant is the subject of the information). If information falls into the category described in one of these exemptions, the authority is not required to release it. There is no requirement to consider whether releasing the particular information requested would prejudice a particular activity or interest.
The Public Interest: In the majority of cases where an exemption applies, to some or all of the information requested, the authority will then have to consider whether it must override the exemption because it is in the public interest to release the information. This public interest test involves considering the circumstances of each particular case and the exemption that covers the information. The balance will lie in favour of disclosure, in that information may only be withheld if the public interest in withholding it is greater than the public interest in releasing it.
Summary of PCT Action Plan: Establish Steering Group Establish Working Group Conduct Local Audit of PCT information held Identify which information to include on the Publication Scheme Analyse current requests Identify what is already made available to the public Present draft Publication Scheme to the PCT Send final Publication Scheme to the Information Commissioner Raise staff awareness Train key staff Agree staff operational roles & responsibilities