Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 2/9/22 – #FOIFriday

Official NHS figures show a service under huge pressure – beds in use by people who could leave but there isn’t suitable social care for them, people stuck on trolleys in A&Es because there’s no bed available, people stuck in ambulances at A&Es because they’re swamped, people waiting hours for ambulances because paramedics are waiting to handover patients.

Freedom of Information requests can help add more detail to the situation by looking into other waits that don’t have data regularly published or finding out just how long those social care delays are.

Waits for follow-ups

More than ten million patients are on “hidden” waiting lists for NHS care, The Times has found.

There are 6.7 million patients on the official NHS waiting list, which covers from referral to treatment. However, data released by health service trusts under freedom of information laws suggests there are 10.3 million further patients who need follow-up care.

The Times asked NHS trusts to provide a figure for patients who needed a follow-up appointment but were not captured in the regular monthly waiting list figures, known as the referral to treatment pathway. Ninety-six responded, with 6.35 million patients on their secondary waiting lists. When the figures are scaled up to cover all 184 trusts in England, weighted by the proportion of GP referrals they receive, they suggest that 10.3 million patients are in that category.

Screening follow-up

One area where waits may be getting worse is for follow-up tests following an abnormal cervical screening.

The average wait for a colposcopy, a follow-up procedure following abnormal cells being found during routine smear tests, in the NHS Lanarkshire health board area was 39 days in 2021 – up 10 days from 2018, the Daily Record reports. In 2018, the longest wait for the follow-up appointments was 101 days – however, this had risen to 212 days in 2021.

Waiting for social care

Hospital patients who are medically fit to be sent home have been forced to wait at hospital for months on end while provisions are made to get them safely home or to a care home, research from HSJ found.

Its Freedom of Information requests found that:

  • At North Bristol Trust, one patient waited more than nine months to be discharged while another waited around eight months.
  • North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust each had patients who waited at least six months.
  • Royal United Bath reported a case of more than five months while Dorset County Hospital, Mid Cheshire Hospitals and Stockport NHS Foundation Trust each reported cases involving delays of three months or more.

Hospital maintenance

Another issue for hospitals is if areas become unusable because they need maintenance work to make them safe.

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was often used in the roofs of hospitals and schools in the mid-1960s to the mid-80s. However, weaker than traditional concrete, it has been likened to a “chocolate Aero bar” with bubbles that put sites at risk of crumbling.

One of the worst affected hospitals in England is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, which has 1,528 steel and timber support props across 56 areas to stop it collapsing.

Replying to a Freedom of Information request made by the Echo, University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust (UHSFT) said there is a small amount of the material in a “non-patient facing area”. The trust said it was located within the laboratory and pathology block.

It is “visually inspected on a quarterly basis, with external consultants fully inspecting the planks annually,” a spokeswoman said. Steel poles are not being used to prop up the RAAC roof, the trust said.

Revenge porn

Children as young as 10 have been investigated for sending revenge porn in the North East, according to Chronicle Live. Revenge porn is the distribution of a private sexual image of someone without their consent with the intention of causing them distress. Those convicted of the offence, which became a law in 2015, could face up to two years in prison.

A Freedom of Information request to Durham Constabulary revealed that the force had investigated 48 crimes where the suspect / offender was aged 18 and under between 2017 and 2021. In one case from 2020, the youngster they were investigating was aged 10.

Unannounced crimes

This is an interesting one looking at the gap between police press releases, appeals and communications and the total number of crimes being reported in an area

Using Freedom of Information laws, the Greenock Telegraph compared the number of crimes reported to police in June of this year with the number of crimes that had been communicated through public channels to people in Inverclyde.

It found that of the 527 crimes recorded in the district during June, only a fraction were disclosed. Among those reported to police over the five-week period, were 77 thefts, 22 assaults, 13 housebreakings, six sexual offences and nine fraud incidents.

Fly tippers

Hull City Council has called on people to help catch fly-tippers. The council’s Caught On Camera web page currently features 16 cases of fly-tipping, with videos of everything from rubbish to furniture being dumped on the city’s streets. All those involved in the fly-tipping remain unidentified and are yet to be caught and the council hopes people can help by spotting those captured on film.

Figures Hull Live received through a Freedom of Information request showed the amount of waste dumped in those 12 months was 955 tonnes and the cost of cleaning it up was £528,000. The number of reports of fly-tipping increased year-on-year by almost 10,000 to 19,105 during that period, with dumping costing £1.95m since April 2017.

Low emission zones

After parking, speeding, bus lanes, and traffic lights, it’s another thing for drivers to be fined over.

A pilot scheme to clear Oxford city centre of polluting vehicles has raised almost £120,000 in fines.

Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) was launched in February, with drivers of non-zero emission vehicles using certain roads being given Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs). Oxfordshire County Council initially issued warning notices to drivers but from 11 April handed out fines.

In total, it sent out 3,979 warnings and 7,545 PCNs. The authority’s income over the six months since the pilot’s launch was £119,617, according to figures obtained by the BBC in a Freedom of Information request.

Ukrainian refugees

While for many the Homes for Ukraine scheme has worked well, for others problems with the accommodation scheme have left refugees at risk of homelessness.

A Northern Echo investigation found authorities have turned to AirBnBs, hostels, refuges and hotels to house those whose sponsorship agreements have broken down, with stays ranging from one night to almost three months. Ukrainian refugees are facing homelessness as safeguarding concerns, unsuitable accommodation and relationship breakdowns contribute to sponsorship arrangements crumbling in the region.

Since the scheme – which sees volunteer hosts open their homes to refugees – launched in March, around 70 sponsorship arrangements have broken down. At least 116 Ukrainians have been relocated since arriving, while 47 people have faced homelessness.

Stags and hens do crime

A man dressed as Big Bird set off a firework inside a property whilst on his stag do. Dorset Police disclosed details of 25 reported incidents since January 1 2021 including the firework fiasco.

Officers were called last November after a man on a stag party had set off a firework inside a Weymouth property, the Dorset Echo reports. The man had been asked to “turn out his pockets” – only for that to prove problematic given he was dressed as the gigantic Sesame Street character.

Meanwhile, a Stockton stag-do descended into violence, when the groom’s brother fell over during karaoke and was brutally beaten by a pack of yobs. Cleveland Police logs show “people were fighting all over” during the midnight fracas, which left the stag with “black eyes, lumps, bumps and bruising”.

The figures were put together by Last Night of Freedom – a company that organises stag and hen dos – using freedom of information requests (likely a keyword search for stag and hen dos), mostly to show the low numbers mean stag and hens aren’t too badly behaved really (and probably even less so on a well organised night out).

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