Dear Department of Health,

I write to you in follow-up to an answer given by the Government Laboratory in response to an Access to Information request regarding government testing of Chinese medicine.

The response I reference can be observed at this website:
https://accessinfo.hk/en/request/budget_...

The original request asked for statistics on budget spent and test results from government tests of Chinese medicines. The response was partial and (in section 4 of the response) indicated that all results were returned to the commissioning department rather than stored at the Government Laboratory. As they mentioned the Department of Health specifically, I now write to you to ask for the statistics on tests in relation to Chinese medicines commissioned by the Department of Health.

Ideally, I would like to obtain the following statistics for the past 5 years:
1) number of tests commissioned
2) reason for each test e.g. adverse reaction, expected contamination, providence etc.
3) results for each test
4) the cost of each test

I greatly appreciate your time taken in this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Dear Department of Health,

I recently wrote to you requesting information on government testing of Chinese Medicines. This request was made under the Code on Access to Information and as such should have received a reply within ten calendar days. That time has passed and so I write to ask why you have not responded. Of course, it can take time to respond to requests for information but it is written into the code that delays beyond ten days will be explained to the person that requested the information.

Thank you for your time taken in this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Dear Department of Health,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department of Health's handling of my FOI request 'Government testing of Chinese Medicine'.

I wrote to the department on 6th September and then again on 17th September to ask why they had not responded. They still have not responded. The Code on Access to Information sets out quite clear guidelines for how long responses ought to take and I am surprised to have received no acknowledgement of my request or, if my request is particularly arduous, an estimate of time required to fulfil the request. I request that you review why there has been no response from the Department.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://accessinfo.hk/en/request/governm...

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Guy Freeman left an annotation ()

This is spectacularly bad! They did reply to a previous request from this site at https://accessinfo.hk/en/request/anonymi..., so we know the email address I have on file for the Department of Health is fine. Nonetheless, I've updated it to the one on their Code page (here: http://www.dh.gov.hk/english/pub_rec/pub...) so feel free to send yet another nudge.

Dear Department of Health,

This email is the latest in a string of attempts to request information under the Code on Access to Information - I am trying a different email address because there has been resolute lack of response to my earlier attempts- despite knowing that the email address used earlier is monitored and has resulted in responses to earlier requests.

Please will you respond and provide the information requested. A full list of the emails sent by me can be observed on this public website: https://accessinfo.hk/en/request/governm...

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Department of Health

Dear Mr Davidson,

           Thank you for your emails dated 26 and 29.9.2015 on requesting
information related to "Government testing of Chinese Medicine".

           Please be advised that your request is being processed and we
will revert to you as soon as possible.

Regards,
Miss Loretta LAW
EO(Per)3
(for Director of Health)

Disclaimer:  This e-mail (together with any attachments) is for designated
recipient only.  It may contain informtion that is privileged for the
designated recipient.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are
hereby notified that any use, rentention, disclosure, copying, printing,
forwarding or dissemination of the message is strictly prohibited.  If you
have received the message in error, please erase all copies of the message
(inclusing attachments) from your system and notify the sender
immediately.

Department of Health

Dear Mr. Davidson,
I refer to your e-mails dated 26 and 29 September 2015 regarding a request
about government testing of Chinese medicines made under the Code on
Access to Information (“the Code”).  You requested to obtain the following
statistics for the past five years:

+------------------------------------------------------------------------+
| (1) | number of tests commissioned; |
|-----+------------------------------------------------------------------|
| (2) | reason for each test, e.g. adverse reaction, expected |
| | contamination, providence, etc.; |
|-----+------------------------------------------------------------------|
| (3) | results of each test; and |
|-----+------------------------------------------------------------------|
| (4) | the cost of each test. |
+------------------------------------------------------------------------+

You also requested an internal review by the Department of Health (“DH”)
on the handling of your previous requests made on 6 and 17 September 2015.
 Further to our interim reply of 29 September 2015, a substantive reply is
provided below.

Testing of Chinese medicines
2.                For your background information, please note that the
Chinese Medicine Division (“CMD”) of DH is responsible for the enforcement
of the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), which provides for the
regulation of the practice of Chinese medicine practitioners and the use,
manufacture and trading of Chinese medicines.  CMD also provides
professional and administrative support to the Chinese Medicine Council of
Hong Kong in devising and implementing regulatory measures for Chinese
medicine.

3.                DH has put in place a market surveillance system under
which samples of proprietary Chinese medicines (“pCm”) and Chinese herbal
medicines (“Chm”) would be collected from the market for quality and
safety tests.  DH has also established a mechanism for reporting adverse
incidents of patients after consumption of pCm and Chm from healthcare
professionals.  Samples of pCm and Chm would be collected during
investigations and laboratory analysis will be conducted by the Government
Laboratory where necessary.

4.                For the past five years (from 1 January 2011 to 31 July
2015), DH had collected a total of 9,547 pCm samples and 2,565 Chm samples
during market surveillance and investigation for testing by the Government
Laboratory.

5.                After careful consideration of your request, we would
like to provide in the ensuing paragraphs a summary of the number of pCm
and Chm samples tested for market surveillance and investigation
respectively.  Each sample may require more than one test depending on the
nature of individual case.

For market surveillance

6.                A total of 8,218 pCm samples and 1,731 Chm samples were
collected from the market surveillance and tested by the Government
Laboratory in the past five years.  For pCm sample, the testing items
include pesticide residues, heavy metals, western medicines and microbial
content.  For Chm sample, the testing items include pesticide residues and
heavy metals.    

7.                Of the 8,218 pCm samples tested, 31 samples were found
to have abnormal results.  The abnormal results of the 31 samples included
one sample tested with unsatisfactory level of pesticides residues, 17
samples tested with unsatisfactory level of heavy metals, nine samples
tested with presence of western medicine and four samples tested to have
high microbial content.  DH has conducted follow-up actions for all cases
accordingly.  Of the 1,731 Chm samples tested, none of them was found to
have abnormal results on decoction.

For investigation

8.                If any substandard pCm or Chm are found during
investigation, DH may take actions such as requesting the Chinese medicine
traders concerned to recall the products and issuing relevant press
statements.  A total of 1,329 pCm samples and 834 Chm samples were tested
by the Government Laboratory for investigation purpose in the past five
years.  Since each pCm/Chm sample may require more than one test and the
type of test to be conducted depends on different investigation
objectives, we therefore could not provide reasons of each test and
laboratory results of each test.  A total of 51 press statements were
issued related to substandard of pCm and Chm being investigated from 2011
to 2015 (up to 31 July), including 43 cases related to pCm and eight cases
related to Chm.  Amongst the 43 cases of substandard pCm, there were 27
cases, 12 cases, three cases and one case found to have unsatisfactory
level of heavy metal, western medicine, alkaloids and pesticides
respectively.  Abnormal level of alkaloids was detected in all eight cases
of Chm.

9.                We could not provide all information as you requested
because DH did not have readily available information of detailed
statistics of individual tests being conducted by the Government
Laboratory in the past five years, including the reasons for and results
of each test.  Furthermore, as the testing of Chinese medicines is an
inter-departmental service provided to DH by the Government Laboratory, no
cost was charged to DH.  Regarding costs of each laboratory test, please
kindly refer to the Government Laboratory as it requires technical
knowledge of manpower, equipment and reagent costs for conducting
respective laboratory test.  

Internal review

10.                You requested an internal review by DH on the handling
of your request as no replies were given to your emails of 6 and 17
September 2015.  We have conducted an internal review of the case.  We
find that we did not receive your emails of 6 and 17 September 2015, hence
we were not able to respond to your request for information.  Upon
receiving your emails of 26 and 29 September 2015, an interim reply was
sent to you on 29 September 2015 and a substantive reply is now given to
you.  There is no non-compliance with the Code regarding the target
response time.                

Review

11.                If you are not satisfied with the reply, you may ask DH
to review the decision by writing to Director of Health at 21/F, Wu Chung
House, 213 Queen’s Road East, Hong Kong.  Alternatively, you may complain
to The Ombudsman, whose address is –

        Office of The Ombudsman, Hong Kong
        30/F, China Merchants Tower,
        Shun Tak Centre, 168-200 Connaught Road Central,
        Hong Kong
        Telephone: 2629 0555
        Fax: 2882 8149

Yours sincerely,
(Miss Loretta LAW)
for Director of Health

Disclaimer:  This e-mail (together with any attachments) is for designated
recipient only.  It may contain information that is privileged for the
designated recipient.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are
hereby notified that any use, retention, disclosure, copying, printing,
forwarding or dissemination of the message is strictly prohibited.  If you
have received the message in error, please erase all copies of the message
(including attachments) from your system and notify the sender
immediately.

nuageamk left an annotation ()

1. Even if the Department of Health (DH) received the request for the first time on 29 September 2015, they did not reply until 16 October 2015, which is 17 calendar days afterwards. This alone constitutes to "non-compliance with the Code regarding the target response time".

2. In addition, as of 16 October 2015, the Access to Information (ATI) officer of DH as listed here (http://www.access.gov.hk/en/health.htm ; last revision date: 9 October 2014) is the Departmental Secretary, Miss LEE Shuk Ching, Eva (email: [email protected]). On the other hand, the ATI contact email listed in DH's own website is [email protected], corresponding to EO(Personnel)3, Miss LAW Ka Lai, Loretta. The provision of wrong/outdated information should be regarded as maladministration.

3. From the experience of other failed requests, if an "@xxx.gov.hk" email address no longer exists, there should be a message of delivery failure from the postmaster of Gov.HK. So there are only three possibilities:
(a) there is unidentified flaw in the Gov.HK email system; and/or
(b) there is unidentified flaw in the delivery system of Accessinfo.hk; and/or
(c) by saying that "we did not receive your emails of 6 and 17 September 2015", DH indeed refers to "[email protected]", which is completely irrelevant to the issue raised in the internal review, instead of "[email protected]".
If (c) turns out to be the case, then DH may have provided misleading information so as to cover up the negligence of their staff. It may be worthwhile to ask for clarification, under the Code on Access to Information, from DH.

Dear Department of Health,

Thank you very much for your substantive reply to my request. I note at the end of your response you suggest dissatisfaction may be taken to other officers but I hope to gain some clarification without that being necessary.

I complained about the lack of response to my initial requests and you responded to say that those requests were never received. Those requests were sent to Departmental Secretary, Miss LEE Shuk Ching who is currently described as the Access to Information officer for the Department of Health here: http://www.access.gov.hk/en/health.htm Other requests have been made to Miss Lee in the recent past and responses have been forthcoming. In making my most recent requests to Miss Lee's email account, no error messages indicating mail delivery failure were received by me and so I am led to believe that her email account is still active.

I am left to consider several options - if Miss Lee is no longer employed then the government mail system should be updated; if Miss Lee is no longer an Access to Information Officer then the government website should be updated; if Miss Lee is still employed but no longer an Access to Information Officer why did she not forward my requests to the appropriate officer?; if Miss Lee is still employed and still an Access to Information Officer, why did she not respond to my requests? In this day and age it is fairly uncommon for email simply to disappear and especially not if several emails have been sent (as was the case here). Please will you clarify whether Miss Lee is still an appropriate contact and/or what updates will be made to government web and mail services?

On another point, you state that the DH does not have readily available statistics on tests performed. To my understanding, it is reasonable to ask for data that is not readily available if there is public interest in the data. I believe there may be considerable public interest in the types of compound/product that are most commonly complained about and the manner of those complaints etc. Is it truly unfeasible to produce this detailed information?

Finally, in order to help me request information from the Government Laboratory regarding costs, can you please provide me with all reference numbers for tests requested by the Department of Health in these matters so that I may ask the Government Laboratory for the prices and numbers of those tests in a clear and efficient manner?

I truly appreciate all the effort you are going to and the time taken to respond to these requests. Thank you again for all your help.

Yours faithfully,

Rob Davidson

Department of Health

Dear Mr Davidson,

           Thank you for your email dated 19.10.2015 on the captioned
subject.

           Please be advised that your request is being processed and we
will revert to you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,
(Miss Loretta LAW)
for Director of Health

Disclaimer:  This e-mail (together with any attachments) is for designated
recipient only.  It may contain information that is privileged for the
designated recipient.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are
hereby notified that any use, retention, disclosure, copying, printing,
forwarding or dissemination of the message is strictly prohibited.  If you
have received the message in error, please erase all copies of the message
(including attachments) from your system and notify the sender
immediately.

Department of Health

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Davidson,

I refer to your email dated 19 October 2015 regarding the statistics on
testing of Chinese Medicines and result of internal review on handling of
your initial requests made on 6 and 17 September 2015.  Further to our
interim reply of 19 October 2015, a substantive reply is provided below.

Statistics on Tests Performed for Chinese Medicines

2.         The purpose of setting up a market surveillance system is to
ensure the quality and safety of Chinese medicines in the market, and
hence to safeguard public health.  If any substandard Chinese medicines
are found, the Department of Health (“DH”) may take actions such as
requesting the Chinese medicines traders concerned to recall the products
and referring the cases to the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong for
follow-up actions, initiating prosecution and issuing relevant press
statements.  

3.         To protect the public in the safe use of Chinese medicines, DH
is concerned about the presence of unsafe Chinese medicines available in
the market.  A total of 51 press statements were issued in reminding
members of the public regarding substandard proprietary Chinese medicines
(“pCm”) or Chinese herbal medicines (“Chm”), in terms of unsatisfactory
result of chemical tests, being investigated in the past five years (from
1 January 2011 to 31 July 2015).  Please find a list of these 51 press
releases in Annex.

4.         We wish to inform you that each sample of pCm / Chm may require
more than one testing item depending on the nature of individual case, and
one testing item may cover more than one type of laboratory tests.  For
example, when a pCm sample is tested for presence of western medicines,
the targeted western medicines (i.e. the number of tests to be performed)
of a pCm indicated for gastro-intestinal diseases would be different from
one indicated for cardiovascular diseases.

5.          In our previous reply of 16 October 2015, we have provided a
detailed summary on the collection of pCm samples and Chm samples during
market surveillance and investigation for testing purpose for the past
five years (from 1 January 2011 to 31 July 2015).  A summary of the cases
based on samples is provided in the following table for your easy
reference:

+---------------------------------------------------------------+
| Purpose | No. of pCm samples | No. of Chm samples |
|---------------------+--------------------+--------------------|
| Market surveillance | 8,218 | 1,731 |
|---------------------+--------------------+--------------------|
| Investigation | 1,329 | 834 |
|---------------------+--------------------+--------------------|
| Total | 9,547 | 2,565 |
+---------------------------------------------------------------+

6.          As mentioned in our previous reply, for the 8,218 pCm samples
collected for market surveillance purpose, the testing items include
pesticide residues, heavy metals, western medicines and microbial content.
 For the 1,329 pCm samples collected for investigation purpose, the type
of tests depended on different investigation objectives.  The testing
items might therefore include pesticide residues, heavy metals, western
medicines, microbial content, chemical markers of herbal medicine or
presence of specific alkaloids, etc.  

7.          Of the 8,218 pCm samples collected from market surveillance,
31 samples were found to have abnormal results.  The abnormal results of
the 31 samples included:
        (a) one sample tested with unsatisfactory level of pesticides
residues;
        (b) 17 samples tested with unsatisfactory level of heavy metals;
        (c) nine samples tested with presence of western medicine; and
        (d) four samples tested to have microbial content.

8.          For the 1,731 Chm samples collected for market surveillance
purpose, the testing items include pesticide residues and heavy metals.
 For the 834 Chm samples collected for investigation purpose, the type of
tests depended on different investigation objectives.  The testing items
might include pesticide residues, heavy metals or presence of specific
alkaloids, etc.  Of the 1,731 Chm samples collected from market
surveillance, none of them was tested to have abnormal results on
decoction.  

9.        DH does not have the cost of test performed by the Government
Laboratory since the testing of Chinese medicines is an inter-departmental
service.  Concerning the cost of laboratory tests, as a reference, you may
wish to refer to an information paper dated 15 December 2014 submitted to
the Legislative Council Panel on Health Services [LC Paper
No.CB(2)453/14-15(02)] in which some details of the price and time
required for pCm testing by local laboratories are shown in Appendix III
(in Chinese only) thereto
([1]http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr14-15/english/...).
 

10.          The Code on Access to Information (“the Code”) does not
oblige departments to create a record which does not exist^1.  Please note
that the readily available statistics kept by DH are sample-based instead
of test-based.  Because of the large volume of information sought, your
request could not be met without substantially or unreasonably diverting
resources away from our proper functions^2.  Therefore, we could not
provide detailed statistics of individual tests being conducted by the
Government Laboratory in the past five years, including the reasons for
and results of each test, as well as the reference number of each request
for test.  We hope to have your understanding in this regard.

Internal Review

11.        Regarding your complaint about the lack of response to your
initial requests made on 6 and 17 September 2015, in view of the
additional information given in your email of 19 October 2015, we are
investigating the case and shall let you have a reply later.  Please note
that Miss LEE Shuk-ching, Eva, Department Secretary, is the Access to
Information Officer of DH.  

Review

12.        If you are not satisfied with the reply, you may ask DH to
review the decision by writing to Director of Health at 21/F, Wu Chung
House, 213 Queen’s Road East, Hong Kong.  Alternatively, you may complain
to The Ombudsman, whose address is -

Office of The Ombudsman, Hong Kong
30/F, China Merchants Tower,
Shun Tak Centre, 168-200 Connaught Road Central,
Hong Kong
Telephone: 2629 0555
Fax: 2882 8149

Yours sincerely,
(Miss Loretta LAW)
for Director of Health

show quoted sections

Department of Health

Dear Mr Davidson,
I refer to our earlier reply of 6 November 2015 and write to confirm that
this department did receive your two emails of 6 September 2015 and 17
September 2015.  Unfortunately, due to mistake made by our staff, these
two emails were not attended to resulting in non-response to your initial
requests.  We sincerely apologise for the mistake and would take
appropriate action to prevent recurrence.

Yours sincerely,
(Miss Loretta Law)
for Director of Health

Disclaimer:  This e-mail (together with any attachments) is for designated
recipient only.  It may contain information that is privileged for the
designated recipient.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are
hereby notified that any use, retention, disclosure, copying, printing,
forwarding or dissemination of the message is strictly prohibited.  If you
have received the message in error, please erase all copies of the message
(including attachments) from your system and notify the sender
immediately.