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Ministers preach transparency for GPs – so why are they watering down the FOI Act?

While the Jeremy Hunt expects the health service – and especially GPs – to be more transparent, his Government is looking at how to make itself even less accountable.

At Pulse we pride ourselves on our investigative journalism and, just last month, we broke the story that CCGs were offering incentives for GPs to cut urgent cancer referrals, using the Freedom of Information Act.

Previously, we have also used the FOI Act to show the extent that CCGs were putting services out to competition, the rising number of practices threatened with closure and significant cuts to community mental health services.

These – and similar investigations – can affect real change and make sure public money is being spent as it should.

However, the Government is looking to water down the FOI Act – and make this type of scruitiny almost impossible.

It has released a new consultation, which asks whether public bodies should charge for every FOI request made. It cites Australia, where a fee of AUS$15 is charged for every request.

To put this in perspective, when we carry out our investigations, we need to build up a national picture, asking the same questions to 209 CCGs across the country, as well as health boards in the devolved nations.

If charges were introduced, this could mean £3,000 – £4,000 every time – without a guarantee we can even do anything with the findings. This would be unsustainable for even the richest media outlets. 

If the consultation does recommend a watering down of the FOI Act – and, with the panel made up of sceptics, this looks likely – then we, and other journalists and pressure groups who do such work, can no longer carry out these types of investigations and uncover scandal and potentially inappropriate use of public money.

The Government claims that public bodies spend £11m a year on answering FOI requests.

But this is a pittance when it comes to the proper scrutiny of the Government.

So we would urge you to sign this petition, which will only take a minute.

And, if you would like to respond to the consultation yourself, you can do so here.

Jaimie Kaffash is news editor at Pulse

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