foi

FOI: A hospital’s shameful secret, and the pathetic attempts to keep the public in the dark

The Manchester Evening New broke a story on Wednesday night which was result of months of hard work. It was a story which should chill the bones of any parent living in North Manchester, or any journalist who believes that those running hospitals should do so in an open and transparent way.

I’m not alone in falling into both categories on this one. It’s a story which shames the NHS, and shames the people who tried to keep a lid on it – the very people who were sent into a hospital because it was deemed to be failing. The fact they tried to keep the scale of those failings out of the public domain should shock us all.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the story. Social Affairs Editor Jennifer Williams got hold of a review into maternity services at hospitals run by the Pennine Hospitals Trust. It was a report which contained findings including:

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FOI Friday: The stories made possible thanks to FOI in September 2016

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

A look at some of the stories made possible thanks to FOI laws in the UK – most of which can easily be replicated elsewhere…

Ambulances called to one house 500 times < Kent Online

The astonishing figure came to light following a freedom of information request by the KM Group that exposed the full extent of the volumes of 999 calls from a handful of properties across the county.

Another address in Tonbridge was responsible for 467 calls while another in Swanscombe generated 446.

Scale of Post Office closures < Yorkshire Post

Fears have been raised over the sustainability of rural communities as it emerges nearly 40 per cent of all Post Offices in Yorkshire have been shut down since the year 2000.

The Post investigation, based on Freedom of Information requests to the Post Office, found that 614 branches – 39 per cent – have been closed in Yorkshire.

Hospitals attacked by computer hackers < West Briton

Cyber criminals have made “multiple” attacks on Cornwall’s main hospital in the past year with repeated attempts to hold health bosses to ransom by stealing sensitive information.

According to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, the IT system of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) was once infected ransom-ware, a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

According to the FoI, the RCHT has experienced “multiple attacks” through cyberspace in the past 12 months.

Finding out more about police dispersal orders < Cambridge News

A fascinating article appeared in the Cambridge News, with a prominent credit to the man behind the FOI, local campaigner Richard Taylor. He sought to find out the background to dispersal order powers police had sought ahead of a game between Cambridge United and Luton.

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The FOI response which revealed a little too much

Ever sent an email then realised you’ve probably said too much?

I think we all have.

Ever sent an email then realised you’ve probably said too much, then realised your email will auto-publish on a website which helps people submit Freedom of Information requests?

That’ll just be Natalie Hatswell of Devon and Cornwall Police then.

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FOI Friday: School holidays, council houses, non-paying councillors (again) and more

FOIFRIDAYLOGO

Asbesto in publicly-owned homes <Beyond the Pillars

Blog Beyond the Pillars, which covers issues involving the North Ireland government, used FOI recently to find out how many homes owned by the NI Housing Executive – in other words, council homes – had asbestos in them. The answer: 70,000. 70,000! Three-fifths of publicly-owned homes, in other words.

Trying to get this information in England, for example, would be much harder, because Housing Associations remain outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that most of them were created out of old housing departments within councils.

There has been talk of including Housing Associations under the scope of FOI – but little action.

However, according to the Whatdotheyknow website:

If a Housing Association is strictly subject to the Freedom of Information Act depends on if it is wholly owned by public bodies. According to a Housing Corporation statment on accessing information: “You can also write to housing associations. Most try to be as open as possible and will provide you with information when they are able. The Housing Corporation requires housing associations to be accessible, accountable and transparent to residents and other stakeholders. The National Housing Federation Code of Governance states that associations should operate in an open and accountable manner by generally making information about their work available to their residents, local communities and other stakeholders.” *.

Also the Information Commissioner has ruled that Housing Associations are subject to the Environmental Information Regulations.

Based on the above, then surely the BTP FOI request is one worth trying with Housing Associations across the rest of the UK?

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FOI FRIDAY: 10 FOI ideas for journalists is back!

FOIFRIDAYLOGO

Welcome to the return of FOI – a weekly look at FOI stories which are worth sharing (and in many cases, copying).

As an added incentive to read on, this blog will also celebrate/shame those councils who prove that actions speak louder than words when it comes to delivering on the principles of FOI and accountability.  

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FOI: The council which wants the power to determine what is ‘lazy journalism.’ Really

If you believed many of the public sector submissions to the Government’s Freedom of Information review, this country is blessed with a public sector which is passionate about transparency but gets bogged down by FOI being abused by people who just want to waste time.

And, you know, we’ve got budget cuts, so something needs to give, so how about you just trust us to be open with people. 

That sums up the thrust from many councils. Some, like Manchester City Council, want to see the cost limit on FOI requests reduced, thus keeping more information secret.

Others, like Newcastle, even propose a geographical limit. That’ll be the Local FOI for Local People Act, then.

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Digital Journalism trends in 2016: The battle for public information at the heart of all reporting, regardless of platform

This is the second in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016. The first, about social journalism, can be found here.

The danger in writing posts predicting trends for 2016 is that it can become a wish list rather than a look at things which evidence suggests are going to happen. To that end, there’s no doubt I’m passionate about Freedom of Information, and angry at the threat it currently faces from the Government’s rather one-sided (sorry, open-minded) review in the 10-year-old Act.

And there’s also a danger that I could try and crow-bar an issue into a digital trends blog post just because it means a lot to me. But as print, TV, radio and internet news providers all find themselves converging in the same digital space, it should be abundantly clear that our old challenges are as relevant as ever – and never more important than now.

I can predict with some confidence that a good chunk of 2016 will be spent fighting off further threats to the access journalists enjoy – and indeed, would take for granted if they weren’t always under threat – from various government initiatives.

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FOI Friday: Using FOI to see how dangerous a street is – and 9 other stories made possible thanks to FOI

Tip of the week: Using FOI to find out just how dangerous specific streets are (from the Lincolnshire Echo using data sourced by BBC Lincolnshire)

Scores of ambulances have been called out to people who have collapsed on Steep Hill in Lincoln.

In a Freedom of Information request made by BBC Radio Lincolnshire it was revealed that 29 ambulances were dispatched to incidents on the street last year.

Ambulances are often called out to help people who have fallen, fainted, are unconscious or experiencing breathing difficulties.

Andy Hill, from East Midlands Ambulance Service, told BBC Radio Lincolnshire they are urging anyone who is attempting to climb Steep Hill should take care and take their time.

Investigations into fraudulent school admissions requests treble < Schools Week

The number of investigations into suspected school admission frauds has nearly trebled in the past three years with almost 700 offers of places withdrawn after cheating parents were caught out.

A Schools Week investigation shows that the number of admission investigations launched by local education authorities soared from 470 in 2012-13 to 1,257 last year.

Offers of places to 696 pupils were withdrawn, with some councils pulling youngsters out of school after they had started. (more…)

FOI Friday: Full cemeteries, unsolved crimes, snooping coppers and accidents at theme parks

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The social care crisis for councils < The Herald

Councils face a mounting crisis with thousands of disabled people unable to meet their bills for social and personal care.

According to figures obtained by The Herald, more than 14,000 people facing bills for personal and social care are in arrears.

Campaigners say the levels struggling to pay now rival those when the organised campaign of Poll Tax non-payment was at its height.

The problem for councils is how they can begin to claw back money from some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The police warnings to people who could be at risk of death < Daily Record

POLICE warned 439 people in Scotland that they were at risk of murder over the last two years.

Figures obtained under freedom of information laws revealed the number of Threat to Life Warning Notices – known as Osman letters.

The warnings are issued to potential targets when police officers discover that someone wants to harm them but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest.

Accidents at theme parks < Burton Mail

A TOTAL of 32 accidents have been logged at Alton Towers in the last three years.

A woman was taken to hospital for checks after hearing her “neck crack” while riding the 60mph Rita ride in May 2013.

Other incidents saw a 13-year-old taken to hospital after hitting her head in the ‘scare maze’ when she was surprised by a performer.

She was “pushed into a wall by friends” after the shock, which resulted in her being taken to hospital with a cut in April 2013.

The Health and Safety Executive released details of 32 incidents logged over the three years, covering accidents and “dangerous occurrences”.

Animals used in experiments < Evening Times, Glasgow

MORE than 55,000 animals have been used in experiments at universities in Glasgow in a year, according to new figures.

The details were revealed in a Freedom of Information request this month which showed the vast proportion were used at Glasgow University in medical testing and research.

The university stressed the animals – including 50,488 rodents, 3,272 fish and 763 birds – were used only when there was no other alternative.

Children in care moved miles away from their communities < Manchester Evening News (via Children’s Society)

Hundreds of children in care in Greater Manchester are being moved to new homes up to 30 miles away from their local communities.

In a report, the Children’s Society, says young people have been left isolated, with some forced to switch schools after being uprooted from family and friends.

More than a fifth of those moved were only told the day before, according to the charity.

Some are moved for their own safety, as they are at risk of abuse or neglect, but in other cases their local councils are unable to find places closer to home.

Out of 5,122 children in care in the region in September 2014, almost 2,000 – nearly four in ten – had been placed outside their local authority area, according to figures released to the charity under Freedom of Information requests.

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