DO-17 Request minutes of PPE Decision Making Committee

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Department of Health and Social Care should normally have responded promptly and by (details)

Dear Department of Health and Social Care,

Please would you provide any minutes or notes of meetings of the PPE Decision-Making Committee that have taken place since 1 Jan 2020. I have not been able to find them published online. However, if they are available online then it will be sufficient to provide the link, together with confirmation that this represents ALL of the meetings held.

I do not know how many such meetings took place and if there is any risk of you denying this request on the grounds of 'excessive cost' then please just provide the information for as many of the meetings (from 1/1/2020 in ascending chronological order) as you are able to within the time constraints allowed.

That said, it would be pretty poor administration for a Government Department if these weren't all filed neatly in one place. It should not, therefore take long to locate and provide them.

If any meetings were held but no minutes or notes were taken of that meeting (knowing that certain parties favoured proceeding being conducted under the 'Chatham House Rule'), then it will be sufficient to provide one email issued to attendees giving the date that the meeting was to be held (ideally an email with the agenda).

Yours faithfully,

David Osborn

Department of Health and Social Care

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Department of Health and Social Care

Dear Mr Osborn,

Thank you for your request of 17 February under the Freedom of Information
Act (our ref: FOI-1497474 - minutes of PPE decision-making committee)

I am writing to inform you that the Department's consideration of the
balance of the public interest with regards to your request is not yet
complete and requires further time to complete in line with Section 10(3)
of the FOI Act.

The Department is currently assessing the public interest in release under
section 43 (commercial interests).

We anticipate this process will take no longer than a further 20 working
days to complete.  We therefore aim to respond fully to your request by 18
Please accept my apologies for this delay.
If you are not satisfied with the handling of your request, you have the
right to appeal by asking for an internal review once you have received
your response. This should be sent to [DHSC request email]
within two months of the date of our FOI response.  
If you are not content with the outcome of your internal review, or should
you wish to raise a complaint about our handling of the case, you may
complain directly to the ICO. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision
unless you have already appealed our original response and received our
internal review decision. You should raise your concerns with the ICO
within three months of your last meaningful contact with us.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team
Department of Health and Social Care

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Dear Department of Health and Social Care,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department of Health and Social Care's handling of my FOI request 'DO-17 Request minutes of PPE Decision Making Committee'.

I submitted my FoI request on Saturday 17 February. As you rightly observed in your reply of 21 February, the Department was required, under the provisions of FoI Act section 10(1), to respond within 20 working days and, if you were unable to do this, you were to contact me before that due-date.

Those 20 working days expired at 23:59 on 15 March and you did not respond within that prescribed time-frame. I therefore wish to submit an appeal by requesting an internal review of your handling of my request for this information. You review should please include your assessment thus far of the ‘Public Interest Test’, since I suspect it lacks any credibility, given your right to redact certain information. As a part of that internal review please would you take into account the following points:

I am pleased to learn that the Department does, in fact, hold the information I requested. Although you don’t explicitly confirm this as per section 1(1)(a) FoI Act, you must surely hold it. Clearly the requested information must exist (and be substantial in nature), in order for there to be any information to consider under the ‘public interest test’.

I am also pleased to learn that, in the absence of any exemption claimed under section 12, the information is readily available without incurring excessive cost.

However, I note that you are seeking to claim an exemption under FOI Act section 43 which reads:
43(1) Information is exempt information if it constitutes a trade Commercial secret.
43(2) Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).

In order to facilitate your determination of the public interest test, I confirm that I have no interest whatsoever in discovering any information which constitutes a ‘trade Commercial secret’. Neither do have I any interest whatsoever in prejudicing the commercial interests of the Department or any other person/organisation. I will fully understand if you wish to exercise your right to redact any relevant information such as names of suppliers, trade secrets, financial data etc.

However, there should be no need to redact the information I seek other than personal data as usual), For the avoidance of doubt this is any information contained in the minutes/notes of meetings pertaining to any interaction between the PPE Decision Making Committee and any of the organisations: “IPC Cell”, Public Health England, NHS England or HSE which relates to Respiratory Protective Equipment or surgical masks.

I have no interest in matters relating to other forms of PPE (not that surgical masks are “PPE”, although often mistakenly/mischievously referred to as such).

I turn now to your assertion that there may be a “public interest” exemption. I submit that there cannot possibly be any such exemption. It very much is in the public interest (in particular the interests of front line health and social care workers) to know what decisions were made by this committee in relation to RPE and surgical masks during this pandemic. I would respectfully point out that you have no right whatsoever to refuse that information.

You may recall that another FoI I submitted to you on 21 Mar 2021 (IPC Guidance issued by the DCMO to NHS/PHE on 12 Mar 2020) was delayed whilst you prevaricated, yet again claiming another " public interest " exemption. On that occasion you “played the public interest card” on the 28th May 2021, then again on the 29th June, then again on the 27th July, then again on the 24th August, then again on the 22nd September.

On that occasion it actually took TWENTY SEVEN MONTHS for you to recognise the fact that this was not a valid exemption and provide me with the information. (Your references COMDE-1464676, IR-1467886).
I am sure you can understand my frustration when I now see you playing the “public interest card” with me yet again – as will the Information Commissioner should I need to refer this matter to him.

I believe that I was very patient with you during that period. I did not lodge a formal complaint with the ICO and my only contact with them was a phone call to confirm that the Department was in serious breach as regards timescales.

I also ascertained that offences may had been committed under section 77(1) of FoI Act 2000 by individuals (including individuals in the Chief Medical Officer’s department).

Associated with that FoI request in 2021, I also submitted a secondary FoI request - for all email correspondence within DHSC which related to your processing of the above request (FOI-1440903). In that email chain you referred to a letter written to you by the Information Commissioner in relation to the Department's practice of claiming exemption under section 35 (Gov't policy development - which applied to the FoI I submitted in 2021) and section 43 (Commercial Interests) - which you are claiming applies in this case. That ICO letter stated:
Section 43 – commercial interests
- Please identify the party or parties whose commercial interests would, or would be likely to be prejudiced if the withheld information was disclosed.
- Is it the DHSC’s position that disclosure “would” prejudice that party’s interests or that it only “would be likely” to cause prejudice?
- Please provide a detailed explanation to support the position that disclosure of the withheld information would, (or would be likely to) prejudice a party’s commercial interests.
Please ensure that you provide evidence which demonstrates a clear link between disclosure of the information that has actually been requested and any prejudice to commercial interests which may occur.

If the prejudice relates to the commercial interests of third parties, in line with the Information Tribunal decision in the case Derry Council v Information Commissioner (EA/2006/0014), the ICO does not consider it appropriate to take into account speculative arguments which are advanced.
May I respectfully suggest that you reconsider your decision in the light of the above ICO's instructions to you The instructions, which applied then, presumably still apply now in the event that I escalate this matter to an ICO complaint. You will be asked these same questions and, in view of my express disinterest in any information pertaining to commercial interests I suggest that you will be hard-pressed to answer them and justify why you are withholding the information.
As mentioned, I was reasonable and patient with you during the 27 months of the previous FoI. However, having seen the email chain which exposed the ways in which your staff twisted and turned to avoid divulging the then DCMO’s IPC guidance which denied so many healthcare workers the RPE that they needed to keep safe, I’m afraid that my patience and tolerance has worn thin.
I look forward to a timely response to the outcome of your internal review and receipt of the requested information before the next due date of 18 April 2024, beyond which it is my intention to refer the investigation to the ICO.
Yours faithfully,
David Osborn

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:

Yours faithfully,

David Osborn

FreedomofInformation, Department of Health and Social Care

Dear Mr Osborn,
Thank you for your email.
We apologise for the continued delay in you receiving a response. We
appreciate this can cause frustration and we will endeavour to provide an
answer before or on 18 April 2024.
Regrettably, DHSC does not carry out internal reviews until a FOI response
has been issued.
Kind regards

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Dear FreedomofInformation,

Thank you.

I understand your point about not conducting internal reviews until an FoI response has been issued.
However, my point remains that continued use of the "Public Interest" excuse for not providing that response (as happened multiple times over a 6-month period in 2021) is unacceptable and not at all within the spirit of the legislation or ICO guidance.

Please therefore do more than "ENDEAVOUR" to provide a response before 18 April. Please actually provide the response by 18 April.

Given the flexibility I have shown (i.e. having no interest in trade secrets or commercial/financial matters) there remains no reason why you should not conclude your "consideration of Public Interest" by 18 April.
Furthermore, I can see no justifiable reason for you to claim exemption on these grounds and and any refusal on these grounds will automatically be appealed and then referred to ICO.

Yours sincerely,

David Osborn