Trial By Error: Oxford Health’s Response to My Freedom of Information Request

By David Tuller, DrPH

A few weeks ago, the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust posted a pamphlet about coronavirus and fatigue that could have been written by the GET/CBT ideological brigades in the 1990s. It was attributed to–or blamed on?–a mysterious entity called the “psychosocial response group.” No information about these psychosocialists was available on the trust’s website, as far as I could find. But I can understand why any organization would appreciate this sort of specialized SWAT team apparently ready to leap into emergency action at critical moments.

The pamphlet provided no references for its recommendation that those struck with a post-covid case of what it called chronic fatigue syndrome should pursue graded exercise and cognitive behavior therapy.  It certainly didn’t mention that the purportedly “definitive” PACE study–so described by its authors–has become an international laughing stock and is taught in Berkeley epidemiology seminars as a case study of terrible research. After some public complaints, the pamphlet was disappeared without explanation.

In two successive freedom of information requests (here and here), I asked the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust three questions. Yesterday I received the following response. I do not consider the response particularly responsive or enlightening.

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Dear David Tuller

Request for Information: Freedom of Information Act

Thank you for your email of 16th April making a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.  You requested the following information and the Trust is able to provide the information below in response:

Request:

  1. What is the “psychosocial response group,” which is credited on the cover of the pamphlet? I have searched for the term on the site and nothing comes up. How many people are members of this group, and what are their professional qualifications and/or medical specialties? When was this group established, and what is its official mandate? What else has it done?
  2. Can you provide a list of the peer-reviewed studies and related scientific documentation used to generate the material in the pamphlet specifically about chronic fatigue syndrome, including risk factors for the illness, diagnostic criteria, management strategies and treatment?
  3. Can you provide any and all documentation relating to the decision to remove this pamphlet from the website, with appropriate identifying information removed?

Response:

  1. And 2. The Psychosocial Response Group is a longstanding multidisciplinary group in Oxford Health Foundation Trust which is part of OHFT’s emergency planning function. The role of the group is to formulate plans and develop resources to support the psychological and social wellbeing of OHFT staff and service users in the event of serious incidents.  In this case the leaflet you have identified was adapted from materials representing UK national NICE guidance.

The Trust has applied the exemption Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act to part of this request. To disclose the information about people as requested would be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection Act (2018).

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust only gives out details of its very senior management. All other staff details are considered to be an absolute exemption under section 40(2) (personal data), and this therefore constitutes a refusal under section 17 of the Freedom of information Act 2000.

  1. In light of concerns expressed by a small group of individuals it has been taken down from trust sites for further review.

If you are concerned with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me and I will ensure the decision is reviewed.  The Trust will consider undertaking a review if requested to do so within 40 working days of the date the response is received by the applicant, and will apply discretion if a longer period of time has passed.

Should you wish to make a complaint as a result of the outcome of such a review, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a decision.

Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Trust for FoI Act matters.

The ICO can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

Please contact me if there are any further queries.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Wendy Boutilier 2 May 2020, 4:48 pm

    Not exactly helpful are they ?

  • Priscilla 2 May 2020, 5:49 pm

    A bit baffled by the response that they only give names of most senior management , as I easily found a list of consultants who are associated with the Trust, hundreds of names covering many specialties. But not any for Psychiatry, hmmmm.

  • Lynn 2 May 2020, 7:51 pm

    Sounds like they are not willing to delve deeper and making you have to dig deeper. You can understand why so many give up. Thank you for looking into this. I am certain you will make them accountable.

  • Caroline Struthers 3 May 2020, 8:31 am

    How can you have a longstanding multidisciplinary group called the “Psychosocial Response Group” without listing who it comprises of? This is not transparent. And if this secret society, funded from the public purse, adapted the content of the leaflet from the out of date and much criticized (2010) NICE guidance, why was this not referenced in the leaflet?

  • Paul Watton 3 May 2020, 12:43 pm

    These people are an embarrassment.
    They obviously have no intention of being open and transparent about the way they misuse and squander public money.
    They appear to be well practiced in responding by saying nothing that is helpful or relevant to the questions put before them.
    Have they therefore been taking lessons from the FOI Dept at QMUL?

  • Linda 4 May 2020, 2:35 am

    Thank you for your perseverance in exposing this and other questionable issues David. Please keep going

  • Lucie Webb 6 May 2020, 8:43 am

    Oxford Health NHS Trust is likely to be a bit headless at the moment because their new Chief Executive, who is a forensic psychiatrist, and who is taking over from an Honorary fellow of Royal College of Psychiatrists, is having ease in his replacement in his old post. His replacement has only been announced today (6.5.20 or 5.6.20 if your American)