Intended for healthcare professionals


Five health stories exposed using the Freedom of Information Act

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 16 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1501


A government review of the Freedom of Information Act ended in a victory for transparency campaigners last month after ministers backed down from moves to water down the legislation. Here are five health stories that would never have happened without the act.

1 Mefloquine and the military

“Lariam: hundreds of British soldiers suffering from mental illness after being given anti-malarial drug”—the Independent.1 Freedom of Information figures show that, since 2008, 994 service personnel have been admitted to mental health facilities after receiving the discredited mefloquine (Lariam), which is associated with psychosis, suicidal thoughts, depression, and hallucinations.

2 Children’s mental health

“‘Creaking’ mental health care keeps children waiting years”—the Times.2 The longest wait from first referral to being formally assessed since 2012 was at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, where one patient waited more than three years.

3 costs

“NHS blows £5m on delayed”—the Register.3 NHS England spent £2.5m in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 on the personal medical information sharing scheme, which has been hit by a series of expensive delays.

4 NHS contracts

“A third of NHS contracts awarded since health act have gone to private sector”—The BMJ.4 An analysis of 3494 contracts awarded in the year after the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act in April 2013 disclosed how private companies were particularly successful at winning NHS contracts offered under competitive tender.

5 Obesity and Blair

“Obesity weighs heavily on Blair’s seat”—the Guardian.5 A story from 2005, the first year of the act’s operation. Figures from the Department of Health listed County Durham and the Tees Valley—home of the then prime minister’s constituency—as having the highest proportion of obese people in England.