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NHS Direct and the wrong information

Martin Rosenbaum | 13:39 UK time, Friday, 7 March 2008

NHS Direct exists to answer questions you've got about your health. Its telephone service gets over 8 million calls a year. But whatever the quality of its health advice, how well does it do at responding to freedom of information queries from those who want to know more about the operations of NHS Direct?

NHS Direct has just won a case at the Information Tribunal, which has ruled that it does not have to disclose the geographical phone numbers for its local call centres that lie behind the national rate 0845 number that it publicises. That's because it would disrupt their phone system's ability to provide callers with the best information in the shortest time.

But the Tribunal's decision contains some scathing criticism of NHS Direct over how it handled the FOI request.

The Tribunal says that NHS Direct's 'initial reply was, as they belatedly accepted, deliberately misleading', since it incorrectly stated 'we do not have geographical numbers into our contact centres for the core NHS Direct Service'.

The Tribunal goes on to attack NHS Direct for the 'confusing' way it presented its case which 'repeatedly changed'. It concludes that NHS Direct 'have only themselves to blame for the suspicion and distrust generated by the way they have handled this request for information'.

NHS Direct now says it has improved its procedures to ensure accurate information is provided in response to FOI requests. It admits it gave out flawed information in this case, but denies that it was intentional.

This is the kind of case that makes some FOI requesters think that they can't rely on the veracity of refusals and have to appeal in order to get at the truth.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:20 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • John Smith wrote:

Given that the NHS appears to have a bad reputation for mistakes that they then try to hide which all comes over as incompetance and deceit, the NHS would do well to be a lot more open with information.

It seems that, alas, the Freedom of Information culture has not taken hold in our government. Examples like this seem to demonstrate that the attitude of official bodies is that every request is something to be regarded with the gravest suspicion and to be resisted as far as possible - exactly the opposite from the way it should be.

Unfortunately, as Martin says, this leads to an assumption by requesters that they are not being given the whole truth and that an appeal is necessary in every case.

What the NHS needs is more staff dealing with paperwork and less emphasis on health!

  • 4.
  • At 08:51 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

I've just tried to contact NHS direct from abroad, but cannot dial the 0845 number from outside the UK. Not publishing a geographical number is making this service unavailable to people from the UK travelling abroad who may have need of access to health advice when in an unfamiliar country.

  • 5.
  • At 11:55 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Peter HOAR wrote:

The very useful website saynoto0870 lists a couple of geonumbers for nhsd but I have not tested them to find if they are consultation or admin lines. In any case, I am led to believe some organisations who do not publish their geonumbers, respond unhelpfully to anyone trying this route, and a really unhelpful reaction would be to change an outed geonumber. I am also led to believe one can reach a uk 0845 style number from abroad by asking the foreign operator to connect. Probably a tortuous and expensive method and a linguistic trap too.

  • 6.
  • At 10:17 PM on 24 Mar 2008,
  • nhsd worker wrote:

you cannot have health info and advice from nhs direct abroad becuase the nurses are only registered in the uk and cannot advise on practices abroad also the call handlers only have access to english services

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