Trust refusal to answer FOI because issue "still live"

Gerry Bond sent three FOI requests to the Belfast Trust

Gerry Bond sent three FOI requests to the Belfast Trust

THE Detail has received email documentation that show the Belfast Trust’s refusal to respond to Freedom of Information requests concerning the outbreak of Pseudomonas at the Royal’s neonatal unit because the situation is “still live.”

A matter of hours after Health Minister Edwin Poots told the Northern Ireland Assembly that the Pseudomonas bacteria had been traced to taps at the neo-natal unit in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, the Belfast trust received a number of follow up Freedom of Information requests.

On the 24th Janaury 2011, Gerry Bond sent three separate FOIs to the trust, each acknowledged on the same day. He requested:

1) Please provide the appropriate Excel files of hygiene audits carried out on the Neonatal ward at Royal Hospital Belfast between December 1st 2011 and present (24th January 2012)

2) Was the first incidence (noted for January 6th 20120 reported under the requirements of the Serious Adverse Incident Procedure? On what date was the report made? Who received the report? What immediate action was taken?

3) Are you able to confirm whether during the investigation swab testing of all staff (estates, nursing and all doctors) involved with the unit was carried out? If so were any staff found to be carrying the bacterium?

In a previous story we outlined how it had taken the RQIA eight months to respond to Gerry Bond’s complaints about ward hygiene after his grandson almost died of an infection at the Royal Victoria Hospital. It subsequently led to one of RQIA’s most damning reports.

Gerry watched with horror as events around the Pseudomonas outbreak unfolded.

He said: “Given my experience of what had happened with my grandson, I obviously had a knowledge of how hygiene regulation is suppose to work and what checks and balances should be in place. I followed the coverage very closely. That’s why I decided to submit a number of FOIs, for me all issues were not being addressed.”

Gerry has been left bewildered with the latest response from the Belfast Trust.

On Friday 10th February, Gerry received an email response from a trust official in relation to his previous three FOI requests.

It said: “I am sorry that I am not in a position to respond to your three FOI requests at present. As you will appreciate, we are managing a live situation. We would be more than happy to provide a full response as soon as we are in a position to do so.”

Gerry Bond previously give evidence to the Health Committee

Gerry Bond previously give evidence to the Health Committee

The email made no reference to how Gerry could appeal this decision by way of an internal review or under what exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act his request was being refused.

Gerry said: “To receive such a response is extremely disheartening and doesn’t exactly fill me, as a member of the public, full of confidence.

“I think it’s important to point out that we don’t know what the hygiene results say at this point, they could very well say it’s achieving more than its minimal level of score and is passing. But the fact remains, we simply don’t know because they won’t release the information, which to me automatically raises suspicion.”

Gerry had previously met with trust officials regarding his grandson’s case and was given assurances that they would look at how they could respond to him quicker with hygiene results.

“In fairness to the trust there have been occasions when I have received audit results through FOI after a number of days, so I can’t understand what the difference here is; these results are clearly in the public interest.”

Gerry is now considering whether or not to take action and complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about the Belfast Trust’s response.

He said: “One can only assume that there is a certain amount of information management going on here. I only wish that as much effort was put into maintaining the hygiene of Northern Ireland’s wards and perhaps we wouldn’t find ourselves having to request such information in the first place.”