Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 18/11/22 – #FOIFriday

One in 10 people in the UK has used FOI to try and get information they thought would be useful to themselves, their community or wider society, according to a new poll by MySociety (who run What Do They Know).

Overall, one in seven people (14%) have made a request if you include those who have made one because of work (hello to journalists and people who work for political parties).

If you’re interested in sending your own freedom of information requests, when you sign up to my newsletter, below, you not only get regular tips and ideas, you also get access to a quick start guide to making requests (and dealing with refusals).

Want some ideas of the kind of topics you can ask for more information on? Here’s a selection of this week’s FOI powered stories.

Unpaid energy bills

The rising cost of living is making it harder for people to keep on top of their bills. And companies appear to be increasingly taking action to swap people to more expensive pre-pay meters to recover the debts.

Rising numbers of people are having their homes broken into by energy firms because of unpaid gas and electricity bills. In the first 10 months of this year, 4,501 warrants were granted to power firms to forcibly enter homes compared with 3,064 for last year and 1,345 in 2020.

The figures were obtained by the Sunday Mail from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service under Freedom of Information rules. Energy companies are able to get a warrant from a Justice of the Peace to enter someone’s home and install a pre-payment meter if they are owed money for gas or electricity.

Long ambulance waits

A patient in the South Holland area had to wait more than 23 hours for an ambulance, Spalding Today reveals.

Looking at response times to calls in the PE11 and PE12 postcode areas in September, East Midlands Ambulance Service reached the most serious calls (Category One) for people with life threatening injuries or conditions in the target of seven minutes just 43 times in that month but it missed the seven minute target on 103 occasions.

The longest wait for a South Holland area patient on a Category Three ‘urgent call’ – for people in the late stages of pregnancy or burns or diabetes – was 23 hours 11 minutes and 59 seconds.

Domestic abuse and pregnancy

Thousands of domestic abuse cases recorded by British police forces in a single year reference pregnancy or miscarriage, Channel 4 FactCheck has revealed.

The 16 forces that provided data following the Freedom of Information request used the term “pregnancy”, “pregnant”, “miscarriage” or “miscarried” in a combined 5,318 domestic abuse records. Just under half (2,403) were designated as crimes, while the remaining 2,915 were logged as non-crime incidents.

Each force provided data over the latest 12-month period for which figures were available. Most covered the year up to April, June, or July 2022 (this may have been a request where specifying a time period would have helped make the figures more comparable).

Agency nurses

Welcome Labour to FOIFriday, joining the Welsh Tories, and everyone who is not the SNP in Scotland in using FOI to point out where the party in government might be going wrong.

Analysis by the Labour Party revealed the NHS paid more than £3bn to agencies to provide nurses and doctors at short notice during 2021-22, Nursing Times reports. This was a 20% increase on the year before, Labour said, when health services paid out £2.4bn.

The most expensive shift was for a nurse paid by Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Swindon, at £2,549.

Spiking crimes

An interesting one to follow up a year on. Last September and October, there were lots of reports of drink spiking and needle spiking in bars and clubs, particularly around the time students went back to university. FOI requests put in to get figures on reports to the police often also showed an increase.

But what happened this year?

In Lincolnshire, there has been a decline in reports of drink spiking at the start of this university year compared to the rise in 2021. Police were contacted 21 times in September and October, down from 37 in the same period last year, the Grantham Journal reports.

The University of Lincoln also says it has seen a decline in reports amongst students, and no cases have been reported on campus.

Whether figures are down due to increased vigilance by police and security staff, or people just aren’t reporting incidents, no charges have been brought in any of the cases and police said it can be difficult to gather evidence as drugs can leave people’s systems quickly.

Temporary accommodation

The number of homeless people in temporary accommodation and bed and breakfast rooms in Glasgow continues to rise. Earlier this year the Glasgow Times reported how in July there were 6,304 people in temporary accommodation.

The new data shows that by October that had gone up by more than 300 to 6,634.

The number of people in bed & breakfast rooms in July was 625. By October that had also increased to 680. The number of children living in temporary accommodation was also up from 2,636 to 2,677.

Leaving mental health hospitals

A total of 302 patients have absconded from or failed to return to mental health units in the Black Country since 2017. The highest number in a single year was in 2019 when 99 patients left units, BirminghamLive reports.

Some of the patients did not return for over a week, raising questions of where they were during that time. Data was passed to Birmingham Live following a freedom of information request from a mental health trust and related only to patients who were being kept in hospitals for their safety rather than those allowed to come and go as they please.

For some patients who absconded or failed to come back after a period of leave was agreed no return date was provided, though Black Country Healthcare NHS Trust, which is responsible for mental health services in the area, insisted that in the last two years all of the patients eventually returned and none were “unaccounted for”.

Deaths while awaiting discharge

Eight patients have died in Dumfries and Galloway’s hospitals this year while waiting to be discharged, the Daily Record reports. And more than 50 people have suffered a similar fate over the last eight years.

The figures were revealed in a series of Freedom of Information requests by the Scottish Conservatives.

They also found more than 3,200 patients across Scotland had died while waiting to be discharged from hospital since 2015 – the year then Holyrood Health Secretary Shona Robison vowed to end bed blocking.

Courses most likely to get you a First

Another win for scouring WhatDoTheyKnow for published FOI responses. And it probably also helps to have a fairly narrow patch to cover.

Using data gained from a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) published by the website, Palatinate has revealed the undergraduate modules with the highest attainment across the University for the last academic year. Factors such as the number of students taking the module and the type of exams they sat may have had an influence on the results.

For first year students the module which saw the lowest number of 1st grades awarded was Gallery 101: Designing An Art Exhibition, where zero 1st grades were awarded, with an average mark of 62. The average mark was only 10 points higher for the most successful first year module, Business Analytics and Technology, which saw 87% of students receive a 1st. 

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