The Department of Health has been ordered to release data on the costs of last year’s swine flu vaccination programme, after it failed to comply fully with a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which polices compliance with the act, said today it had ordered the DH to disclose information on the cost of purchasing the pandemic flu vaccine in use in February 2010.

The ICO said it became involved following an FOI request received by the DH from a journalist asking for the costs of the “development, distribution, promotion and purchasing of the vaccine”, which was jointly supplied by GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter Healthcare Ltd.

It said that while the majority of the request was complied with, the DH “failed to provide information around the costs of purchasing the vaccine believing that the information would prejudice the commercial interests of the manufacturers, along with its own commercial interests, and those of other NHS bodies”.

However, the commissioner ruled the department should release the purchasing costs because it was in the interests of transparency over public spending.  

ICO head of policy delivery Steve Wood said: “The Department of Health must be transparent about the spending of public money at a time when public finances are under considerable scrutiny. The information also relates to a public health issue of significant interest to the general public.

“We are however mindful that the manufacturers involved should not be penalised for working in partnership with the NHS and have therefore agreed that the Department was right to withhold information providing a detailed breakdown of the costs associated with both GSK and Baxter,” he added.

As a result the DH has been told it must disclose purchasing costs within 35 working days, but is not required to provide a detailed pricing breakdown for each manufacturer. The DH, however, can appeal.