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Sajid Javid’s letter of 27 September 2021 changing the COVID shielding policy for the clinically extremely vulnerable

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Dear Department of Health and Social Care,

Please provide me with the scientific advice and evidence that was used when making the changes announced to the shielding policy in Sajid Javid’s letter of 27 September 2021.

Please detail which bodies and senior individuals in the DHSC/NHS and Government had input into or review/sign off for in this letter, the dates of each of their input, review/sign off.

Please provide all briefing documents, annexes, internal emails (or other electronic communications) and any attachments that informed the content of this letter

Yours faithfully,

Penelope Crouch

Department of Health and Social Care

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References

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Department of Health and Social Care

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Crouch,

Please find attached the Department of Health and Social Care's response
to your recent FOI request (our ref: FOI-1420207).

Yours sincerely, 

Freedom of Information Team
Department of Health and Social Care

show quoted sections

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 'Sajid Javid’s letter of 27 September 2021 changing the COVID shielding policy for the clinically extremely vulnerable' (response provided by letter dated 26 October).

I would like to request an internal review on the following basis:

1. How can it be insurmountable to review 164 documents within the 24 hour budget limit?
Assuming you spent 5 minutes reviewing each document then that would only take 820 minutes (out of a budgeted 1440 minutes).

2. I am also confused by your reference to documents being held by “Arm's Length Bodies” - who are these bodies and what does it mean being at "Arms Length" in this case?
If they are truly at arms length, in the sense that you have no possession or control of these documents, then I would not consider that you would be obliged to search/disclose these in any event. However your response seems to suggest that you would have to request these documents from the relevant bodies as a further reason why compliance with the request would be unduly onerous. Some clarification would therefore be most helpful. If you can also name these “Arm’s Length Bodies” I can send them an FOI directly to speed this up.

3. I note that in your response you state that “Due to the reasons above, I am unable to suggest how you might refine question to bring it under the section 12 limit”
As an interim response pending your internal review you could, at the least, provide me with any complete briefing note(s) prepared for senior DHSC staff to brief the then Secretary of State Sajid Javid to satisfy him that he could sign the letter of 27 September. That would (presumably) have come from one person at a high level in the DHSC and not from a plethora of different departments.

I consider that my information request was clear, but in summary I want to understand the background and context of the letter of 27 September, what the complete review and sign off process for this letter was and what information informed the content of this letter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s...

Yours faithfully,

Penelope Crouch

Department of Health and Social Care

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Crouch,
 
Please find attached the outcome letter of the internal review into the
handling of FOI-1420207.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Freedom of Information Team
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Penelope Crouch left an annotation ()

Request made to the ICO to review the result of the DHSC internal review which was to deny the request

FreedomofInformation, Department of Health and Social Care

2 Attachments

Dear Ms Crouch,

 

Please find attached an amended letter regarding the internal review that
concerns FOI-1420207.  You will also note an additional attachment which
should have been provided previously – H2F7 OFFSEN Submission on the
future of shielding – redacted.pdf

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Freedom of Information Team

 

This e-mail and any attachments is intended only for the attention of the
addressee(s). Its unauthorised use, disclosure, storage or copying is not
permitted. If you are not the intended recipient, please destroy all
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message are not necessarily those of the Department of Health and Social
Care. Please note: Incoming and outgoing email messages are routinely
monitored for compliance with our policy on the use of electronic
communications.

Dear Freedom of Information Team,

Please find below my response to your letter of 20 January, which I have directed to the Information Commissioner, as this is now with the Information Commissioner’s Office for a decision to be made on whether you have correctly applied the legislation and exemptions. My thoughts on this letter are set out in this response.

Yours sincerely,

Penelope Crouch

Dear Sirs

Your reference IC-204975-H2F7
DHSC Reference IR-1424826 (FOI-1420207)

Thank you for your letter of 3 December 2022 confirming that my complaint is in progress. As is evident from my complaint my concern is that the DHSC has failed to:

- provide the information required; and

- meet the standards required of a public authority to assist and respond appropriately.

I have now received a further communication from the DHSC in respect of this FOIA request. The DHSC have provided a document titled “Future of shielding policy and clinically extremely vulnerable cohort” dated 23 July 2021.

I believe this is to reflect the comment in my November 2022 request for internal review where I asked “As an interim response pending your internal review you could, at the least, provide me with any complete briefing note(s) prepared for senior DHSC staff to brief the then Secretary of State Sajid Javid to satisfy him that he could sign the letter of 27 September [2021].”

Unfortunately this document is so heavily redacted, allegedly under the section 35 exemption, that it does not provide the detail of the information that I requested. Examples are that there were three recommendations - only one is provided. Part of the conclusion is redacted. The entire section on communications is redacted and there is a further section (again with the entirety of the text deleted) where even the title is redacted!

I also query why they did not identify this document in their internal review and provide this earlier.

My request has now additionally been denied under section 35(1)(a) of the FOIA which provides protection for information that relates to the formulation or development of government policy. This exemption is qualified by the consideration of the public interest test.

The DHSC states that it:

“Recognises the general public interest in making this information available for the sake of greater transparency and openness.”

However the DHSC applies the exemption on the basis that:

“Civil servants and subject matter experts need to be able to engage in the free and frank discussion of all the policy options internally, to expose their merits and demerits and their possible implications as appropriate. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the content of such discussion will be disclosed. Disclosure of information protected under section 35 could prejudice good working relationships and the neutrality of civil servants.”

For the reasons set out below I disagree with their assertion and consider that the public interest should now be in favour of the full disclosure of this information.

The information requested dates from September 2021. This is, at the time of this email, 16 months ago. It relates to a policy (shielding) that is no longer in effect.

In the government’s 21 February 2022 paper:

“The COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19

The government’s plan for removing the remaining legal restrictions while protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and maintaining resilience”

there is no reference to any intention to reintroduce shielding, stating instead in paragraph 69 that “The Government and UKHSA will continue to communicate to people most vulnerable to COVID-19 about available clinical interventions, including vaccination and treatments, and also testing and public health advice”.

It is my understanding from having reviewed the Information Commissioner’s decision notice IC-84300-W5D4 that to be exempt, the information must relate to the formulation or development of government policy, the design of new policy, and the process of reviewing or improving existing policy. We are now a considerable time past this stage. Indeed, we are now at the stage where the removal of the advice to shield is established, completed policy to which the section 35 exemption should not apply as this particular policy process can no longer be harmed by its disclosure.

The COVID-19 pandemic had (and continues to have) serious consequences for thousands of people - these people were, before this decision, treated as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). The cessation of shielding directly affected both the persons formerly categorised as CEV, as well as their family, friends and employers, in some cases forcing them back to work which has had consequences. The withheld information holds the detail on the rationale for the decision to stop the shielding advice. There is therefore considerable public interest in its disclosure.

I have asked myself how can this prejudice future policy work? Coronavirus remains a live matter, but the government’s plan is clear that there is no intention to reintroduce shielding. I have a legitimate interest to understand the basis on which the decision to lift shielding was made at that time.

There remains a need to promote government accountability, increase understanding of the policy in question, and enable public debate and scrutiny of the policy and how it was decided.

The DHSC can always provide context and explanation to accompany this information, if the ICO decides to require the DHSC to release this documentation and so mitigate any consequence that the DHSC contemplates will have any detrimental affect on the quality of government decision making.

The DHSC now additionally asks me in the letter of 20 January 2023 whether:

“in response to the second question in FOI-420207, you mention “this letter”. By that I assume you meant “this submission”. The above response answers that question.”

This is incorrect. The second question asks for detail the bodies and senior individuals in the DHSC/NHS and Government that had input into or reviewed/signed off on Sajid Javid’s letter of 27 September 2021. The redacted document provided makes no reference at all to this letter, how it has been prepared or its content. It critically does not provide any detail of sign off - in fact the clearance checklist has only been partially completed despite the instruction at the top stating “Inclusion of this checklist is mandatory. Please complete the whole list … .”

Additionally given the officials (whose names have been redacted under section 40(2)) are providing direct information to the Secretary of State, these individuals must be of sufficient seniority and public accountability that their names should not be redacted.

I can provide the Information Commissioner with a copy of Sajid Javid’s letter of 27 September 2021 to assist. I attach a link to an item about this letter on Blood Cancer UK’s website from 27 September 2021 which states that:

“the letter does not feel properly thought through, and risks giving the wrong impression that people who are extremely clinically vulnerable no longer need to worry about Covid. And at almost 2,000 fairly dry words, it’s very likely that lots or people who receive it will not read the whole thing.”

What does Sajid Javid’s letter to the clinically extremely vulnerable mean?

bloodcancer.org.uk

Seventeen charities wrote to the Secretary of State for the DHSC on 6 September 2022 (winzip attached) stating:

“Although the immunocompromised constitute less that 1% of the population, they accounted for 8.6% of intensive care admissions for Covid in the first half of 2022. Their risk death from COVID is much higher than that of the general population: blood cancer patients (who comprise half of this cohort) were 12 times more likely to die from Covid between April and June of this year (2022), despite being much more cautious and risk averse than the general population. For some groups within the cohort, this is higher. Kidney transplant patients have a risk of death 26 times higher than the general population. This relative risk of death has increased substantially in the past 2 years because, while severe outcomes in the general population have been mitigated by our world-leading vaccines programme, protections for the immunocompromised remain inadequate.”

Again this emphasises the need for there to be transparency on the basis for the preparation and sign off of the letter of 27 September 2021 including the advice and evidence that was provided when deciding to remove the shielding advice.

Yours faithfully

Penelope Crouch

We don't know whether the most recent response to this request contains information or not – if you are Penelope Crouch please sign in and let everyone know.