Freedom of Information in Community Pharmacy

The PDA has written to the Information Commissioner after our experience in submitting freedom of information (FOI) requests revealed concerns about how these are treated by some of the multiples.

Wed 16th May 2018 The PDA

The PDA has written to the Information Commissioner after our experience in submitting freedom of information (FOI) requests raised concerns about how these are treated by some of the multiples.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) is designed to ensure that people and organisations can gain access to information about publicly-funded services. It is intended to ensure openness and transparency. The 10th International Conference of Information Commissioners in 2017 highlighted the need for greater transparency in contracted-out public services. [1]

Community pharmacies – like those in NHS hospitals – are recognised as public authorities under the FOIA. With exceptions in certain circumstances, they have to respond to requests, providing information relating to the provision of NHS pharmaceutical services. As well as being written in to the FOIA, a 2013 ICO determination involving Morrisons pharmacy confirmed the applicable areas of law. [2]

Last November, the PDA submitted an FOI request to the head offices of each of the CCA multiples (ASDA, Boots, Lloyds, Morrisions, Rowlands, Superdrug, Tesco and Well) about where pharmacies had closed during normal NHS contracted hours. We will report on that topic in due course, but another story emerged from our endeavours.

Some of the companies claimed they did not have to respond to the FOI request, and initially declined to provide the necessary information. It quickly became clear that some of the organisations did not even seem to be aware that they had to respond to FOI requests at all, or of how to correctly apply the provisions of the FOIA.

Organisations subject to FOI have a legal duty to provide certain information – and as major providers of NHS services, this includes these private companies.  However the responses we received do not suggest an overall spirit of openness and transparency, in accordance with the purpose or detail of the law.

This may also mean that much of the general public and the pharmacy profession is unaware that they can request information, or it may mean that they will get rebuffed inappropriately. For example, requestors could ask for email exchanges between certain people and on subjects such as patient safety, or internal reports covering matters of public interest relating to pharmacy.

PDA believe that if FOI requests were used more effectively, it could help improve transparency in pharmacy and support greater patient safety and improved conditions. Though the PDA have the knowledge, resources and determination to follow our own requests through, this experience has given us concern about what may happen to requests from an individual, such as a patient or pharmacist, if they request information.

We have now highlighted our concerns to the Information Commissioner’s Office and hopefully this article serves as part of an awareness raising exercise about freedom of information.

 

[1] “International Conference of Information Commissioners highlights need for greater transparency in contracted-out public services,” Information Commissioner’s Office, 22 September 2017. [Online]. Available: https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2017/09/international-conference-of-information-commissioners-highlights-need-for-greater-transparency-in-contracted-out-public-services/.
[2] “Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) – Wm Morrisons Supermarkets Plc – FS50465631,” Information Commissioner’s Office, 4 February 2013. [Online]. Available: Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

 

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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