Letters Freedom of information requests

Using/abusing freedom of information requests

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6690 (Published 26 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6690
  1. Peter D Singleton, principal research fellow1
  1. 1University College London, London, UK
  1. peter.singleton{at}chi-group.com

I am not sure what Breathnach and colleagues are suggesting: allowing the media to use the Freedom of Information Act but preventing possible research studies using the same legal right?1 It scarcely sounds as though this has become a major problem compared with subject access requests under DPA98 through solicitors’ “ambulance chasing.”

On the ethical point that participation should be voluntary, this principle is established for individual participants only, not organisations, and is based on the notion that the individual concerned should have a choice if there is a potential for harm. Here there is the possibility of “corporate harm” through incurred costs, but the choice has been made at a higher level, through the decision by parliament to pass the Freedom of Information Act. As a public body accountable to parliament, their organisations must simply comply.

Perhaps rather than complaining, Breathnach and colleagues should view this in a more positive light, requesting a copy of the results of the survey or paper, so that they can benefit and learn from any conclusions drawn. That way the cost incurred would have some real benefit, assuming the organisation is prepared to act on the conclusions.

Finally, if the researchers do not provide the results voluntarily, then perhaps Breathnach could serve them with a freedom of information request to get access to the results and conclusions. That should cheer them up.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6690


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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