Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Still he remains in the trees

Following on from an earlier FOI request, the DoH has issued a 'reply' of sorts. These are the interesting chunks selectively edited out:

"3. Was the possible content of the report discussed by the CMO with the prime minister, any ministers or politicians, government advisers, senior DOH officials, or corporate representatives?
The CMO discussed the possible content of the report with the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister of State for Quality and her successor. Additionally the CMO had discussions with Andrew Foster, former Director of Workforce. The contents of the report was also discussed at the Departmental Management Board and with Special Advisors.

4. If the content of the CMO's report was discussed with any of the above people, I would like to see records of precisely what was discussed and who was present.
The decisions made in the meetings between the CMO and the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for Delivery and Quality are recorded in a series of submissions from the CMO and in handwritten notes by Private Secretaries who were in attendance at each meeting. These submissions and notes are being withheld under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act as releasing them could prejudice the conduct of public affairs.

Because Section 36 is a qualified exemption, we are required to assess the balance of the public interest in withholding this information against that in releasing it. While there may be a public interest in seeing how decisions are made, and the information may inform a debate of public interest, there is also the concern that release of some of this information may inhibit the free and frank exchange of advice between officials and to Ministers. In this instance, I have concluded that the public interest in withholding this information outweighs that in its release."

The DoH also attempts to justify the consultation process for the CMO's report, however they again are not willing to put their money where their mouth is by releasing the details. Yet again the FOI act is being used and abused by the government. They claim that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs that of releasing it, how very convenient for them.

It appears that the FOI act is being used as a pretence at open democratic government, as anything fishy can be withheld at the discretion of those in power. The CMO has even discussed his report with special advisers, who are hand-picked unelected unaccountable officials; surely the with holding of these discussions is completely anti-democratic?

I fail to see the democratic benefit of allowing our rulers to have these 'free and frank' exchanges behind closed doors, as if they are acting in the public interest then surely they have nothing to hide? Ensuring that key discussions about policy are held wide out in the open should be a key part of a good functional democracy, obviously our unique 'democracy' is merely a sham.

On the other hand if they were deliberately auctioning off the NHS to private corporations and if this process was made easier by a weaker more politically controlled medical profession, then they would have rather a lot to hide and wouldn't want to reveal what has gone on behind closed doors.

Watch this space.

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