I understand PHW create statements ready for use if asked for comment - reactive v proactive comms etc.
I would like to request a copy of all unused statements, press releases, comments or any similar prepared lines for use if asked for that were not sent out.
I would like to ask for all items that come under that for the last calendar year.
Thank you for your request dated 17th August and your patience whilst we have considered the public interest test as required in these circumstances under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act).
The information requested falls into two groups:
Group 1. Unused press statements and releases, which are in the form of documents;
Group 2. Comments and similar prepared lines, which will be in the form of email communication between our Communications Team and senior managers.
I have been provided with 47 documents that fall into the first group. However, I have sought the opinion of our Qualified Person (under Sec 35 of the Act) and in her opinion the release of these documents would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice to senior managers and so Public Health Wales engages the exemption provided under Section 36 of the Act. In order to engage that exemption I am required to conduct the Public Interest Test.
Arguments for release of the information
There is a general public interest in promoting transparency, accountability, public understanding and involvement in the democratic process and FOIA is a means of helping to meet that public interest. Public Health Wales is a public body and NHS Trust and so seeks to maintain the trust and confidence of the public it serves. Releasing this information now would demonstrate that the organisation is committed to maintaining a culture of transparency and openness particularly as there is not yet an intended date for publication.
Arguments against the release of the information
The publication of statements that have not been finalised, vetted or signed off by a public health consultant using the proper clearance process could potentially lead to the release of information which would risk a distorted public perception of delicate public health messages, causing unnecessary alarm and fuelling misinformation.
As outlined in the Qualified Person’s opinion, the disclosure of reactive statements relating to incidents and outbreaks would have a negative on our ability to prepare such reactive statements. This could then introduce a delay in preparing lines relating to these incidents, leaving a gap in which misinformation can thrive, which is not in the public interest.
Whilst I accept that there is a public interest in the transparency of our organisation, there is a wider public interest in having a public health system that is as effective as it can be and so I am concerned that release of the information into the public domain would potentially compromise our organisation’s ability to deliver such a system and so the release would not be in the public interest.
Accordingly I am refusing this request for the documents in Group 1 under Section 36(2)(b) of the Act and this response serves as a refusal notice.
In respect of the emails in Group 2. Such emails could have been sent from almost any member of the Communications Team within the time-period, and to any senior managers. I was provided with a list of staff who may have provided such advice and using a set of search terms based on your request I have searched our email system. This has resulted in over 500,000 possible emails that may or may not contain information relevant to your request, however I cannot tell if they do without reviewing each one. Based on the ability to properly review 1 email per minute (as an average), I estimate that to review these emails would take me over 8,000 hours. This would clearly exceed the cost limit as set out by the Secretary of State (currently equivalent to 18 hours of work) and Section 12 of the Act permits me to refuse the request under these circumstances.
Accordingly, I am refusing this request for the emails in Group 2 under Section 12(1) of the Act and this response serves as a refusal notice.
Under my duty to advise and assist, if you would care to consider your request and perhaps narrow down your request to a specific incident, or possibly a narrower time frame or area that may help me to find the information you are looking for. Please get back to me if I can do anything further to assist with this.
Head of Information Governance
Public Health Wales NHS Trust
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of the decision, you should write to the Corporate Complaints Manager, Public Health Wales NHS Trust, 3, Number 2, Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff, CF10 4BZ.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint or review, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Trust. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:
Information Commissioner for Wales
Telephone: 029 2067 8400