Seriously ill? Who do you call, a doctor or Lambeth council’s Medical Review Team?

by More Street Cleaning and less Social Cleansing, please

There’s a Freedom of Information request slowly being dealt with by Lambeth council’s obfuscation team…

The request was simple enough –

‘Please list the people who make up the Housing Medical Review Team.
Please provide full details of their medical qualifications.’

The reply was:

“Please find the information you requested below.

We have qualified medical officers who make decisions on and review medical cases. Medical officers are required to hold a Dip COT/ Degree in OT or Degree/Dip Nursing/ Health Care or Health Visitor as a minimum qualification

 Disclosure of the names of medical officers is withheld relying on the following:

Section 40(2) Personal Data

Section 40 Personal Data of the FOIA sets out an exemption from the right to know if the information requested is personal information protected by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).  The personal data about third parties are exempt under section 40(2), by virtue of the condition in subsection 40(3)(b) being satisfied, as disclosure to a member of the public otherwise than under the FOIA would breach the first, second and possibly the fourth data protection principles.  

 Personal data is defined in Section 1(1) of the DPA as:

o “personal data” means data which relates to a living individual who can be identified from those data; or
o from those data and other information which is in the possession of,
or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller.

 The Council has concluded that, in this instance, the information requested contains third party personal data.  Under Section 40(2) of the FOI Act, personal data is exempt from release if disclosure would breach one of the data protection principles.  We consider the principle being most relevant in this instance as being the first. This exemption is absolute and is not subject to the public interest test.

 In reaching this conclusion what we have borne in mind is that disclosure of information under the Freedom of Information Act in effect entails disclosure not only to the person requesting the information but also to the public at large.  Disclosure of these names could cause unwarranted harm and distress to any individuals identified.”

Oh dear, this raises some questions…

1. Are medical team members, who may have a degree in Occupational Therapy, or a diploma in Nursing/ Health Care/ Health Visitor really qualified to overide the opinions of Consultants and GPs, even though these council employees are obviously less qualified? Indeed, is a Health Care worker, or a Health Visitor, or even a Nurse really the best person to assess anybody with complicated, often ‘invisible’, medical needs?

2. Why are we, the general public, not allowed to know the names of the people the council employ? When is Information not free? Simple, whenever someone would prefer it not to be.

3. “Disclosure of these names could cause unwarranted harm and distress to any individuals identified.” Pardon? The actions of Lambeth’s Medical Review Team often seem to cause unwarranted harm or distress to residents of Lambeth, that’s why we’d like to know who is responsible!

In my own case, Lambeth’s Medical Review Team person completely dismissed a couple of things I’d told her about my medical condition, things well documented by both my GP and at least one hospital Consultant. But, as far as she was concerned, she didn’t believe what I’d said, therefore what I’d said simply didn’t exist. The medical record that Lambeth council has compiled on me, is a version concocted in the mind of a, presumably, inadequately-qualified Medical Review Team member (inadequate in terms of my situation, anyway). The problem is that Lambeth council base the way they treat me on this warped version they have. It’s definitely ridiculous, but it should be criminal too.

Of course, all this segues neatly into the recent case of the Westminster council tenant who suffered from Vertigo, but the council’s medical team decided it wasn’t of any relevance when the council tried to give the family a 16th floor flat. When the family turned it down as unsuitable, the council decided they were being unreasonable… fortunately a Judge thought otherwise.  The end result being that a council who ignores the medical opinion of somebody qualified, had better make sure they have their own expert witness to back up their position.

As the article says at the end:

“The Court of Appeal considered that the council was wrong in dismissing the evidence without opposing medical evidence.

This case raises the question as to the extent to which local authority review officers will need to obtain medical evidence to counter medical opinion provided to them. The safest position is to obtain it. There is otherwise no means of refuting an expert’s opinion.”

A further request for information has just gone in:

“… request an internal review of Lambeth Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Medical Qualifications’.

I believe further information can be furnished without compromising the privacy of individuals:

1. Please detail the number of people in the council’s medical review team.

2. Please name the members of the medical review team.

3. Please detail the individual qualifications that team members possess, without specifically relating this information to individuals.”