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Scottish Information Commissioner upholds appeal over the release of childhood leukaemia statistics

Image of filing Cabinet with documents flying out of itNEWS RELEASE: Tuesday 16 August 2005, for immediate use.

Scottish Information Commissioner upholds appeal over the release of childhood leukaemia statistics

The Scottish Information Commissioner today (Tuesday 16 August 2005) upheld an appeal against the Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service (CSA) over its decision to withhold childhood leukaemia statistics for Dumfries and Galloway.

In the case of ?Mr Michael Collie and the Common Services Agency? the Commissioner found that whilst the CSA was entitled to ensure that personal health information was protected from public disclosure, nevertheless it was wrong not to provide any information in response to Mr Collie?s request. .The Commissioner required the agency to provide the information either at census ward level, suitably amended to further reduce any possibility of identifying individuals, or to release aggregate figures at a Health Board level.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner said:

?In making my decision in this case, I have sought to achieve a balance, which provides reassurance to individual patients about their right to privacy and respects the wider public?s right to information on health issues.?

In coming to his decision the Commissioner considered current practice in the publication of statistics about patients and medical diagnoses, not just in the UK, but also overseas.
During the course of the investigation the CSA produced new draft guidance on the handling of statistics involving small numbers, and the Commissioner welcomes the development of a clearer decision making criteria for handling similar requests.

The Common Services Agency and Mr Collie have 42 days to appeal against his decision to the Court of Session on a point of law only.

Ends

For further information contact Claire Sigsworth or Paul Mutch on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

More follows/ Notes to Editors

Notes to Editors:

1) Summary of Decision

  • Mr Collie requested information on incidences of childhood leukaemia for both sexes, in the age range 0 -14 by year from 1990 - 2003 for all of the Dumfries and Galloway (DG) postal area by census ward from the Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service (CSA).
  • Mr Collie was dissatisfied with the responses he received from the CSA to his initial request and to his subsequent request for review. Mr Collie lodged an application with the Commissioner to obtain the information he had requested.
  • The Commissioner found that the CSA had not dealt with Mr Collie?s request for information fully in accordance with Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in that it had breached section 1(1) of FOISA in not providing certain information by year at census ward level. The Commissioner required the authority to provide census ward data, suitably amended to protect against potential identification of individuals, or, if Mr Collie prefers, annual aggregate statistics at health board level.

2) The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) provides a statutory right of access to all information held by Scottish public authorities. This right came into effect on 1 January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by FOISA. They include the Scottish Parliament and Executive, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • Information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in FOISA.
  • If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, they ultimately have a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who can force release.

3) The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion the Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  • His duties and powers are to ensure that people get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
  • His role actively promotes and enforces compliance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.

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