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The facts on freedom of information

I'd like to expand a little on the answer provided to Pulse's Ask the Expert question.

In addition to 'subject access' under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), there are two main additional statutory regimes that apply to information held by GPs: those under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

If the request is to generate new information then I'm sure the answer provided is correct in terms of charging a fee.

The most important point to note is that, as public authorities under the FOIA, GPs must first consider any request for information under the terms of that act. There is an exemption for personal data requested by the patient or by someone on their behalf, when the DPA applies instead, and there are 22 other exemptions that may be applied.

Different fee arrangements apply under each of the regimes. In the case of personal data, up to £50 may be charged depending on the form in which the information is held, and both the consent and identity of the patient must be demonstrated if a solicitor is applying for access to personal data on the patient's behalf.

Before disclosing health records, it is a requirement to check that doing so would not harm the physical or mental health of the patient - or anyone else.

Excellent guidance is produced by the Information Commissioner's Office on

each of these regimes, including the codes of practice that apply (www.ico.gov.uk). Colleagues may also find it helpful to refer to the NHS confidentiality code of practice, available from the Department of Health website - go to www.dh.gov.uk and search for 'NHS Confidentiality Code of Practice'.

John Wingfield, former information governance adviser, London

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