Hounslow primary care trust's failure to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act was so severe that the information commissioner Richard Thomas served draft High Court papers to force it to reveal information - the first time this has happened under the act.

Mr Thomas described the PCT's handling of the case as "totally unacceptable" and warned that the act "is not a voluntary scheme that organisations can dip in and out of".

The decision notice makes shocking reading: a catalogue of failures to follow procedure drawn out over two years.

It should not have to come to that. Well-run NHS organisations have nothing to fear from freedom of information law. Openness and accountability are all part of the job. And the more information organisations routinely publish, the fewer freedom of information requests they will face.

In fact, the Information Commissioner's Office upholds public bodies' actions in half of complaints.

The reason the commissioner is so keen to draw attention to this case is that he was aghast at the state of Hounslow PCT's records management, describing it as "clearly inadequate".

The central lesson here is that trusts must ensure their procedures for dealing with FOI requests and their records management systems are up to scratch - a lesson Hounslow has learned the hard way.

Those that do will be able to deal with FOI requests efficiently, effectively and with minimal potential for any damage to their reputation.