Q. I own an NHS practice and have just received a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from an unknown person who is asking me to reveal how many patient complaints were received by the practice over the last five years and how they were managed. Do I have to answer those questions?
Everyone has the right to request information from a public body under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the individual making the request does not need to provide a reason why the information is being requested or how it will be subsequently used.
Since your practice provides care to NHS patients, then for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, you would be classed as a public authority. You may be aware, you should already have a publication scheme available to ensure individuals can access relevant information and this would include access to your practice complaints procedure.
Should your practice have a website that includes your practice complaints procedure; you would then wish to direct the enquirer to this to obtain this information. Alternatively, you might prefer to provide a hard copy in order to address this request.
Information regarding the number of complaints received by the practice is likely to be seen to be information that should be provided under an FOI request. This information should also have been provided to your PCT under the terms of your contract and the enquirer may also request information regarding practice complaints from your PCT. You may wish to consider advising them of this fact.
When responding to a FOI request, it is important to check the nature of the information being requested and ensure that when complying with any request, no personal information relating to individual patients or members of staff would be included in the information released; personal information would be protected under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, a request for information should be responded to within 20 working days; the first day of this timescale being seen as the first working day after the request was received. If further information is required in order to comply with a FOI request, then this timescale would commence once the additional information has been provided.
In the event a request for information is not responded to, or a practice declines to provide information, the individual making the request may then ask the Information Commissioner’s Office to review the request and to consider how appropriate the response was.
You can read more about the freedom of information here
You can obtain model templates to create an FOI publication scheme from the office of the Information Commissioner here