Awkward Revelations Prised from GDC on Freedom of Information requests.

Awkward Revelations Prised from GDC on Freedom of Information requests.

GDPUK recently reported on a Freedom of Information request (FOI), from Leeds dentist Dominic O’Hooley, which casts light on more of the GDCs spending habits.

The revelation that the GDC has clocked up an average of over £1,100,000 in annual spending on external legal advice is only part of the story. Further questions from Dr O’Hooley were focussed on legal spending specifically related to the GDC responses, or more often lack of response, to FOI requests.

Areas where the GDC has been particularly reticent have included its use of furlough money during the pandemic, monitoring registrant’s social media posts, and perhaps most shamefully, deflecting questions about the incidence of suicide during Fitness to Practice (FTP) investigations.

Having established the GDC’s heavy expenditure on external legal advice, Dr O’Hooley went on to ask about its yearly external legal spend related to Subject Access Requests (SARs), FOI requests, and tribunals regarding appeals against the GDC’s FOI rulings.

Dr O’Hooley has personal experience of the GDC’s lack of transparency. He made an initial enquiry about the GDC’s decision not to reduce the Annual Retention Fee during the pandemic. As readers will recall many indemnity providers reduced their fees during the period that practices were forced to shut down, but the GDC repeatedly refused to take any similar action, despite its significant cash reserves and the reduction in its workload. At the same time, the GDC also claimed, what is ultimately tax-payers money, under the furlough scheme. The story of the GDC having its cake and eating it, made the pages of the magazine Private Eye.

Dissatisfied with the GDC’s evasive response to his FOI, Dr O’Hooley successfully complained to the Information Commissioner (ICO). The ICO instructed the GDC to disclose a copy of an email sent by GDC Chair William Moyes regarding the ARF.

GDPUK has previously reported on Dr O’Hooleys sustained efforts to get the GDC to come clean on how it arrived at its unyielding position on the ARF. The Information Commissioner’s decision followed Dr O’Hooley’s complaint to the ICO regarding the GDC’s handling of his original Freedom of Information request, which sought answers on how the regulator had considered the possibility of altering the ARF in response to the pandemic.

Determined not to comply with the ICO’s instruction the GDC successfully appealed to a First-Tier Tribunal. This allowed the GDC to appeal the ICO decision. Dr O’Hooley then sought to appeal that decision in the Administrative Appeals Chamber. When this was turned down he applied to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal the First-Tier Tribunals ruling.

Dr O’Hooley appeared at the hearing in person and the GDC was represented by Counsel Mr Peter Lockley. Mr Lockley is a member of the prestigious 11KBW Chambers. To quote the Chambers’ website, “He has acted on numerous occasions for the Information Commissioner and draws on this experience when representing individuals and public authorities in information and data protection matters.” With Mr Lockley’s assistance the GDC have been able to avoid disclosing the sensitive emails.

In response to a new FOI from Dr O’Hooley, the GDC has now revealed the extra cost of its battles to withhold information from registrants and the public. Despite having its own highly qualified legal team, the GDC has spent over £77,000 between 2016 and 2022, on external legal advice in relation to SARs and FOIs. Of this, the £2,021.80 spent in 2022 on Upper Tribunals regarding appeals against decisions of the First-Tier is likely to relate to Dr O’Hooleys case. If so it would represent Peter Lockley’s bill for helping the GDC to keep emails sent by their former Chair William Moyes to his colleagues, secret.

William Moyes is no longer Chair of the GDC. Many in the profession had hoped that his successor, Lord Toby Harris, might herald a new era and usher in a GDC that would work with registrants to protect the public.

Dr O’Hooley’s experience is by no means unique. His latest FOI shows that for all its talk of engagement and transparency, the GDC remains more committed to protecting itself, than the public.


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