Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Why anonymity is wrong in hospital deaths scandal

Blunt: Christopher Graham
Blunt: Christopher Graham

The disgraceful cover-up at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) over the report on the suspected deaths of babies and adults at Barrow-on-Furness hospital is, thankfully, unravelling.

The new management at the CQC had, after the initial cover-up, been reasonably open about the failings of their own system.

But there was one elephant in the room: the CQC's point-blank refusal to identify the allegedly guilty parties to the cover-up. To justify this stance, it cited data protection concerns.

This is an old trick and one that failed to pass muster in the harsh glare of this particular spotlight.

Its final undoing was from the UK's Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who said: "Senior managers can't hide behind data protection."

Mr Graham is, of course, quite right. The CQC was hiding behind the Data Protection Act 1988, which defines the law on the processing of data on identifiable living people.

People and organisations who hold data have to do so securely and are required to take into account a person's expectation of confidentiality.

There are a number of exceptions, including national security and taxation. But if there is a pressing public interest in publishing data, then it is legitimate to do so. And it's harder to think of a clearer expression of public interest than investigating an alleged cover-up relating to the apparently unnecessary deaths of babies. Mr Graham says quite bluntly that the CQC was "ducking" behind data protection. This is too often the case and is used as a convenient way to refuse to divulge information which is awkward or embarrassing.

If any good can come out of this aspect of the Barrow/CQC affair, it would be that the practice of needlessly redacting names and other details reports on spurious 'data protection' grounds will be undermined.

While he's flexing his muscles, perhaps the Information Commissioner will turn his gaze to Stormont and, in particular, the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

The OFMDFM is fast gaining the reputation of being the worst Government entity in the UK for failure to respond in time to Freedom of Information requests.

Last month, the Belfast Telegraph reported that some requests had not been answered for between two and three years, instead of the 20 days specified in the legislation.

It's sad that it's come to this, but it would be now helpful if Mr Graham would immediately issue enforcement orders to order OFMDFM to comply now and in all future dealings, or face legal proceedings.

WE mangled political history in a G8 report this week by having Enrico Letta succeed Silvio Berlusconi as Italian prime minister, rather than Mario Monti. Ci dispiace molto.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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