Social Audit Ltd
P O Box 111 London NW1 8XG
Telephone/Fax 44 (0)171 586 7771


Mr Roy Alder, Head of Executive Support
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ 10 March 1998

Dear Mr. Alder,

I am sorry to trouble you again, but there are two or three other matters I wanted to raise in connection with the MCA submission to the Select Committee on Public Administration. The first relates to item 10 in the Committee questionnaire, and to your response: "MCA policy is for only a senior official - for example a member of the MCA Board not involved in the original decision - or the Department of Health's Policy Management Unit (PMU) to conduct appeals against a refusal to disclose information."

The implication here is that appeals against non-disclosure would routinely be handled by someone other than the person who was the subject of the complaint arising from non-disclosure. This does not appear to have happened in my case, but have I missed something?

Briefly, I wrote to Dr Keith Jones, with a formal Code request, on 16th January. He replied on 6th February, and asked me to contact him if I had any queries. He also indicated I should write to him if "unhappy" about his decision. I was, and wrote on 11th February to say so.

Apart from a cryptic remark "in the first instance" - which I suppose could mean that Dr Jones would pass on my complaint to another reviewer - there was no indication I could get the decision independently reviewed, but every indication I would not.

Could someone please let me know what is going on and, if the matter is now in the hands of an independent reviewer, who the reviewer is and how they were selected?

Could you also please send me a copy of the document used by senior MCA staff when conducting reviews, the PMU Internal Review Guidelines on handling appeals?

I also note from the MCA response to Q10 that the Agency received requests for two such appeals in 1997. May I please ask if either of these two appeals involved Social Audit?

Secondly, I want to question the Agency response to Q 11, in which you discuss the development of the MCA website. Please could you tell me if the developments you mention to the Select Committee are essentially the same as those described as follows, in the National Inventory Project:

Full title: Medicines Control Agency World Wide Web
Summary: The construction of Internet world wide web pages giving information about the Medicines Control Agency to the general public and industry via the CCTA's Open Government server.
Objectives: Publicity
Benefits: Uptake of services
Technical aspects: Web space of CCTA server
Expected cost: Unavailable
Target Groups: Health Care Providers, Private Sector
Partners: CCTA

Assuming this is a description of the project you mentioned to the Select Committee, I hope they decide to make further enquiries, given the principal objective is "publicity", the costs unknown, and benefits so ill-defined. What does "uptake of services" really mean, beyond a count of website 'hits'?

For my part, I would appreciate an explanation of why the "target groups" are described as "Health Care Providers, Private Sector" when the purpose is said to be to give "information about the MCA to the general public and industry".

I would also like to suggest the MCA seriously considers opening up part its website for public discussion - ie inviting public comment, also publishing all comments so as to promote discussion. I am sure this would help to check, test and stimulate the MCA's work. You may know that Dr. David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, recently used the Internet very constructively in this way, even involving himself in Q&A session on the White Paper on Freedom of Information, via the UK Citizens' Online Democracy website.

I am again sending this letter, with copies of the correspondence mentioned, to the Clerk to the Select Committee on Public Administration. In the meantime, thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Medawar


Contents page
List of MCA/CSM Correspondence
Select Committee on Public Administration