FOI Friday: Swine flu deaths, speeding points, paper cuts in hospital and fuel prices

The board of the North West Strategic Health Authority, according to its website. The authority's record on FOI and freedom of information is quite sickly
The board of the North West Strategic Health Authority, according to its website. The authority's record on FOI and freedom of information is quite sickly

So, how many people did die of swine flu?

For reasons known only to itself – although the fact it keeps being named and shamed by the Information Commissioner for its poor record on FOI might be a clue – the North West Strategic Health Authority banned hospital trusts from giving out figures on swine flu deaths in January.

So the Manchester Evening News turned to FOI to get the true figures. Now it can reveal the number who died in Manchester, and it’s twice as high as originally reported. The SHA’s attitude is little short of shameful, and its original excuse for imposing the ban – because there was no guarantee the figures were accurate – is simply laughable.

Domestic violence at a hyperlocal level

A good example of how low police can go when asked to provide statistics. The Hinckley Times reports not only how many incidents of domestic violence there were in its area, but also how many there were in each police patrol area too.

The Times also married up these police patrol areas to the local council wards they covered, thus making it easier for readers to understand the numbers against areas they were more likely to know.

It Asda be a crime hotspot

The Yorkshire Post reports on an FOI request which revealed that Asda in Harrogate was the place where more crimes were reported than anywhere else in North Yorkshire. Asda disputes the figures, arguing that the numbers include incidents around the store, not just in it. The fact that a sexual assault took place on its car park a week later doesn’t help that argument.

Driving licence points

BBC West has come up with an FOI which, I suspect, will run and run: Asking the DVLA for the number of points the person with the highest number of points on their licence has in any given area and the number of drivers in any given area with more than 12 points on their licence.

Crime at train stations

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle reports on the Metro light-rail stations with the highest number of crimes, and what the crimes were. They obtained the information from Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, which is responsible for the Metro system in Newcastle. It’s also possible to get similar information from the British Transport Police for mainline train stations.

Bed shortages

At various times during Labour’s decade in charge, the party claimed to be making hospital bed shortages a thing of the past. True? Not in Glamorgan, it appears. The local newspaper, the Glamorgan Gem, used FOI to ask how many operations had been cancelled due to bed shortages. The answer: 120. Staff blame the closure of wards for the problems.

Accidents in hospitals

It’s one thing to go to hospital because of an accident, another to be injured in hospital. The Bristol Evening Post reports on a successful FOI request which asked hospitals to release details of injuries sustained in hospitals in the region – including ones sustained by staff and patients. Some hospitals revealed all the details of the injuries, others broke it down by general types, and the staff most likely to report injuries.

Fueling concerns

Petrol prices keep returning to the political agenda, but they are also having an impact on public services too. The Norwich Evening News used FOI to find out how diesel bills had changed over the past two years at emergency services. Bills have gone up 64% – and that’s before the cuts come in.

Drivers behaving well?

This story from the Express and Star in Wolverhampton is well worth a read. It used FOI to ask the Central Motorway Police Group – which covers motorways across much of the Midlands – how many speeding tickets had been issued during two years of roadworks on the M6 north of Birmingham. Answer: 60. Police say this is proof most drivers can complete their journeys without speeding, the RAC says it is proof of resources of the motorway police being stretched.

Effective policing?

A simple, but effective, way of using FOI to keep an eye on how well police are doing is to ask for the number of a certain type of crime committed, and the number of those crimes which resulted in prosecution. The Echo in Essex has done that for sex offences, finding that of 400 attacks, 86 were prosecuted.

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