Department of Health private office ordered to reveal details of Jeremy Hunt’s diary

Information Commissioner says “public interest” in naming representatives from US healthcare firms overrides Freedom of Information exemption

The information watchdog said disclosing Hunt's meetings with US healthcare representatives would not "impact on the protected space needed by ministers". Image: Paul Heartfield/Dods

By Jim Dunton

28 Jun 2016

Officials at the Department of Health have been told to name the representatives from a group of US private healthcare firms who met with health secretary Jeremy Hunt, overturning their refusal to comply with a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The decision effectively orders staff to disclose details from Hunt’s diary, despite a clause in the act that exempts information relating to the operation of ministers’ private offices. DH’s decision to withhold the names of junior staff members at the meeting was upheld, however.

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The new adjudication follows an FOI request to the department for minutes and further information about a 2014 meeting between Hunt and representatives from the US firms Kaiser Permanente, Group Health, Virginia Mason and Alere Inc. The request was sparked by a departmental gifts-and-hospitality publication that identified the engagement.

DH responded to the request by stating that it had no minutes from the meeting, but that further information in the form of a list of attendees existed - which was exempted by section 35(1)(d) of the act.

The department argued that complying with the request would be “prejudicial” to the effective operation of the secretary of state’s private office.

However, the Information Commissioner's Office disagreed – despite accepting that the terms of the defence were met.

Its judgement said: “Disclosure of the relevant diary entries would give more of an insight into the meetings as the make-up of the attendees may reveal how high level the discussions are and there is a clear public interest in getting a better understanding of external access to ministers. 

“Although this information comes from the diary entry it is essentially a list of names and the commissioner cannot accept that disclosing this information would impact on the protected space needed by ministers as it would not show anything about the discussions in the meeting or any conclusions reached.”

Civil Service World approached DH for a response. A spokesman said: “We are considering the ICOs decision."

Under the terms of the decision, the department has until July 21 to publish the requested details or challenge the judgement.

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