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  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    Posted on April 8th, 2009 admin No comments

     The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a warning to public authorities to get their publication schemes in shape - or else.

    A statement released from the ICO (link) says it will be monitoring websites of public authorities to check that they are complying with new guidelines on publication schemes which came into force on January 1. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Tax ‘super-computer’ snooped on by council staff

    Posted on April 5th, 2009 admin No comments

    It would appear that the problems associated with huge computer databases and just who has access to them are not going to go away. An article in Computing has highlighted the security issues around massive computerised databases that have thousands of access points.

    The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which controls the £72m Customer Information System (CIS) has a database of 92 million tax and benefit records made available to 80,000 DWP employees, 60,000 workers from other government departments, and staff from 445 local authorities.

    CIS holds information on anybody with a national insurance number, including where they live, their ethnicity, and their tax status.

    Following a Freedom of Information request it has emerged that in the six months to January 2009, six DWP employees were disciplined for “inappropriate use” of the system.

    In the same period, local authorities were obliged to carry out internal investigations eight times after being notified by DWP that CIS had been accessed inappropriately.
    These 14 incidents were in just six months. Last month, the department admitted that since August 2006, 33 local authority staff have been confirmed as accessing records “without business justification”.

    The DWP became so concerned about instances of unjustified access that in January it sent out a memo to authorities warning them that the practice must stop.

    “Anyone found to be abusing CIS may face sanctions ranging from disciplinary action to prosecution,” read the memo. “DWP will support your local authority to ensure appropriate disciplinary or prosecution action is taken, and may consider prosecuting directly under social security legislation.”

    Read the full article here.

  • CCTV footage of July 7 bombers to be released

    Posted on April 4th, 2009 admin No comments
    Suicide bombers caught on CCTV

    Suicide bombers caught on CCTV

    Previously unseen CCTV footage of the July 7 London suicide bombers should be released into the public domain against the wishes of the Metropolitan Police force.

    That is the decision of the Information Commissioner who ruled in favour of the Press Association who had appealed the capital’s police force’s decision to try to keep the images secret.

    Officials for the Met said the previously unseen images should not be released as they were covered by S.30 (Investigations) and S.38 (Health and Safety).

    The Commissioner ruled that S.30 was engaged but that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the maintenance of the exemption. The Met’s argument that S.38 protected the images from disclosure was thrown out by the Commissioner who stated that it did not apply.


    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Foundation Hospitals operating behind “closed doors”

    Posted on April 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

    I have found some interesting articles written by the Birmingham Post’s health reporter in the wake of the controversy relating to two local hospitals in her area. She claims that the move from becoming a ‘normal’ NHS Trust to Foundation status brings with it a reluctance to be as open with the public as they should be. Her comment piece is reproduced below and this links to the original article. If you work in the NHS do you think Foundation Hospitals are less open than their counterparts who are NHS Trusts? Please post your comments.

    AS a journalist reporting on the health service, I have found that coveted Foundation status has been a major pitfall of a changing NHS, writes Alison Dayani.

     It seems to have helped allow health chiefs to become more secretive and run hospitals without a usual level of public scrutiny. I feel its by-product has been to assist hospital executives in placing extra barriers against reporters exposing embarrassing failures and irresponsible actions. 

     There is no longer a full public openness of a service that is still primarily funded by you and me, the tax-payer.

     A veil of secrecy has come down on agendas, board minutes and other documents that were once al-ways held in public, openly questioned and made managers answerable to patients and relatives.

     Hiding behind the “commercial interest” loophole that allows meetings to be held behind closed doors, press officers no longer inform journalists of when trust board meetings are held and if I ask for minutes, I am directed to internet sites that make them hard to find or limited reports, with the most recent often more than a year old.

     I used to be able to wander into board meetings and be free to report whatever aspects of business they were discussing. There were numerous reports sent to me direct - governance, finance, nursing committees - that I could browse to understand the true state of the hospital.

     But Foundation trusts now rely on spin-doctors and communications teams who can be difficult in passing on the information you require, knowing that the alternative Freedom of Information Act allows them 28 days to reply and reliant on the journalist knowing exactly what document and specific information to ask for.

     They seem to have forgotten that the public funds their wages, pays the bills and has a right to know everything they do.

     A press officer at a non-Foundation city hospital with public meetings once moaned to me that it wasn’t fair her trust got more negative exposure as Foundation hospitals were “getting away with murder”, but problems were being kept behind closed doors.

     Unfortunately, it is that layer of secrecy that has now created a breeding ground for horrors such as Stafford Hospital - and the only ones that suffers are the public.