Department of Health criticised by Information Commissioner

The Department of Health (DH) has been criticised for the way it handles requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the DH had failed to help people who were making requests under the Act on numerous occasions and delayed the conduct of internal reviews.

It had also “repeatedly applied blanket exemptions to requested information with the effect, in some instances, of withholding entire documents from release”, and had exceeded the timescale set out in ICO guidance for consideration of the public interest test, the ICO said.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said the Department must improve and has issued it with a formal practice recommendation.

The practice recommendation followed an ICO decision made earlier this year after the DH had breached the Act several times with regard to a request for information relating to its electronic recruitment service. It said the DH could not find numerous relevant documents filed between August 2003 and September 2004. Subsequently, the ICO carried out an audit of 40 complaints received about the Department.

“The Information Commissioner is concerned that the Department’s current levels of resource may not support the volume of FOI requests,” it said, recommending that the DH review the staffing and resource given to freedom of information in order to improve request handling.

DH fails in FOI responses, says Information Commissioner (Health Equipment & Supplies, 4 April 2008)