Reply to the UKHSA about delay in publishing report about the outbreak of E.coli O157 from salad products. 05/12/20236th December 2023
|Information Rights Team
UK Health Security Agency
Mr S Nash
Your ref: 16/10/23/KMG/502
Follow up to FOI request ref: 095 (ICO ref: IC-216290-R9T1) New Ref: 502
Dear Information Rights Team,
Re: Large Outbreak of E.coli O157 in 2022
Thank you for your letter dated 1st December 2023.
I note you appear to have copied in the Information Commissioner in relation to this reply, therefore it is important to fully explain for the commissioner’s purpose, all the information they may not be aware of.
What the Information Commissioner is aware of is:
1. On 19th May 2023 prior to the Information Commissioner’s decision notice, UKHSA wrote to me about the publication of the report. Into the outbreak
“We continue to work with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) regarding your complaint on our application of the exemption at Section 22 of the Act to the remainder of your request. Our position regarding withholding this material in line with Section 22 of the Act remains unchanged, we are currently contributing to a cross government multi-agency incident management team outbreak report (IMT report), which is still being drafted, the final report will be published on our website in 2 months’ time. When published the report will provide the requested information and further context and explanation. We can confirm that the final published IMT report will provide all the information that you originally requested, to a level of detail that will fully satisfy your Freedom of Information Request.
Again, please accept our sincere apologies for not answering questions 8, 9 & 10 sooner.”
2. On 2nd June 2023 the Information Commissioner gave the decision notice, which I have accepted in good faith.
What the Information Commissioner may not be aware of from your letter dated 1st December 2023:
3. A copy of the e-mail I sent to the UKHSA on 1st September 2023
From: Steve Nash <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: 01 September 2023 11:46
To: Enquiries <Enquiries@ukhsa.gov.uk>
Subject: Large outbreak report of E.coli O157 that started in August 2022 final report & Notifiable :diseases: causative agents reports for 2023
“To whom it may concern,
Please can you advise when your report into the large outbreak of E.coli O157 in the UK that started in August 2022 (where there was 259 confirmed cases as stated by the Food Standards Agency as of early December 2022) will be published, as previously I was informed on 19th May 2023 by the UKHSA that “the final report will be published on our website in 2 months’ time” yet to date it does not appear to have been, which is now at least 3 months.
I also note the Notifiable diseases causative agents weekly reports for 2023 were only updated on 30th August, having previously being update on 1st August 2023. a period of at least three weeks which is very unusual for the UKHSA even allowing for the holiday season.
This affected the weekly updated on line reports for week 31 (week ending 6th August 2023), week 32 (week ending 13th August 2023) & week 33 (week ending 20th August 2023). Week 34 week ending 27th August 2023 was updated on 30th August as per the above weeks.
I am sure you will appreciate this kind of information is important to the general public who have an interest in such”.
I received the following response on 29th September from Enquiries@ukhsa.gov.uk
“Dear Steve Nash,
Thank you for your email of 01 September 2023 to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) regarding the large outbreak of E.coli O157 in the UK that started in August 2022 and the Notifiable diseases: causative agents reports for 2023. I work on the team that handles enquiries and have been asked to respond to your request. Please accept an apology for the delay in answering your email.
We have sought advice from the relevant team, who have confirmed that the outbreak report is currently going through review and following the usual approval process, will be published as soon as possible.
The Notifiable diseases causative agents weekly reports for weeks 31,32,33 and 34 were updated on 30th August, which is not our usual publication schedule. The relevant team have investigated and identified the cause for the delay and as a result, can confirm that this delay should not occur again.
We hope you find the above information useful”.
4. On 2nd October 2023 I wrote to Dame Jennifer Harries, Chief Executive, as I was not happy in relation as to when the report was going to be published, as no date was offered and this was at least 2 months after the UKHSA had said it would be published. (The initial time line for publication on 19th May 2023 by UKHSA was 2 months. For the sake of argument, if we say 2 months from 1st June 2023, the report should have been published on 1st August 2023.Therefore the report, by the time I received this reply from The UKHSA on the 29th September 2023 was now 4 months rather than 2 months overdue).
Please see the attached letter, which did not receive a reply to even though I sent it to Enquiries@ukhsa.gov.uk.
5. I re-sent the letter stated in 4 above on 1st November 2023. The reply of 1st December 2023 is attached. I also noted that the reply on 1st December 2023 was outside the UKHSA’s aim to complete a reply in 20 working days.
The letter, once again, does not state any time frame as to when the report will be published, other than “we anticipate it will be in a position to publish in the new year”. If the report is published in January of the New Year, it will be nearly 6 months overdue. Whilst I appreciate your scientific staff are busy and they have a broad range of fluctuating public health needs, It should have been possible by this stage for discussions with the IMT to ascertain when they thought it would be possible to complete and publish the report, given their fluctuating workload. (This includes any FSA staff involved in the food investigation into this outbreak and the devolved administrations etc).
For whatever reason the UKHSA do now, not appear to have considered the problems thoroughly enough in relation to all the processes to enable the report to be published, which is quite surprising given its previous experiences of such at Public Health England etc.
It is up to the Information Commissioner if they so wish, to know what went wrong after their decision notice on 2nd June 2023, in relation to the publication of the report.
From a personal perspective, I believe the UKHSA have misled me in relation to the publication timescale of the report.
6. I note that on 22nd November 2023, an abstract from the report about this outbreak was shown at a conference in Barcelona. I appreciate the UKHSA like to promote themselves internationally, but the report has still not been published.
In hindsight, is it not insensitive nor inclusive for only selected people to see some information that was not readily made available to people who wish to see it in the UK including those involved in this outbreak.
I have also corresponded about some of the information contained in the Abstract with Dr Neil Cunningham whose name, amongst others, appears on it.
Finally, I am still awaiting a date in the New Year as to when the report will be published on the UKHSA website by. Had the UKHSA not stated in their letter of 19th May 2023 that the report would be published in 2 months we would not be in this position. It is therefore for the UKHSA to sort out the mess they created by rectifying the problem they caused in the first instance.
I await your response.
Campaigner on E.coli O157
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