Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Codex Global - GPC advice
Following the guidance we issued on 13 July 2012 regarding a Freedom of Information request from a company called Codex, the GPC have updated their advice and provided some example responses that may be helpful to practices dealing with this issue.
According to the Information Commissioners office, practices are legally obliged to respond within 20 working days of the request. However, if you have replied to the original request already and you have been asked for more information by the company, you will have a further 20 working days to respond.
The GPC advice reads:
Following the recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to GP practices by Codex Global, we have sought further legal advice to clarify the information GP practices are obliged to provide in response. The questionnaire asks practices about their use of formal quality improvement programmes in anticipation of CQC registration. Codex are requesting this information on behalf of an independent organisation (not CQC).
Our initial advice was that practices are obliged to respond, and responses could say that the practice are following the GPC guidance on CQC registration, with a link to the guidance attached.
The following advice provides further information for practices that are yet to respond, or for those that have responded according to our original advice, but have received a request from Codex for further information.
Our advice is as follows:
- GP practices are obliged under the FOIA to respond to requests about the information they hold and have recorded in any form;
- Practices should consider whether they have the information requested. FOIA does not require a public authority (GP practices are public authorities for the purposes of FOIA) to produce or obtain information that it does not have, so if for instance, a decision or intention has not yet been reached, a FOIA request will not require the practice to reach one in order to answer the question. Where the practice does not hold the information requested, they should say so;
- For question 1 in the questionnaire, practices should consider whether they have recorded their future intentions and reasons. If not, then the information does not exist (although note than even an email, or voicemail, dialogue between staff/partners will count as recorded information);
- If the practice does have the information, then it should be provided unless one of the exemptions applies. There are a number of exemptions which are outlined in Part II (sections 21 - 44) of the legislation. However, it should be noted that some exemptions are qualified, meaning even if the exemption applies, the practice will need to consider whether it is in the public interest to disclose the information or not;
- One exemption that could apply to the questions being asked here is that of Commercial Interests (Section 43 - a qualified exemption). Practices should consider whether their business decisions are commercially sensitive when deciding if Section 43 applies;
- When refusing to disclose on the basis of an exemption, the practice should comply with section 17 of the Act (i.e. the refusal should be communicated to the applicant in a refusal notice).
In summary, we advise practices to respond to this FOIA request, and to ensure they answer each question separately. Emails to the LMC list server have indicated that Codex Global will accept basic responses to each question - some example responses are available that indicate the level of detail accepted by Codex so far. Please note though that practices should answer each question truthfully, based on the information they hold and have recorded in any form.
We also suggest that practices ask Codex for confirmation that the responses provided are adequate, they do not require any further information and that the request is now closed.Last updated : 02 Aug 2012