Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 3/3/2023 – #FOIFriday

Important information to start this week: WhatsApp messages sent by public officials in the course of the work for public bodies are subject to the FOI Act. Despite what Isabel Oakeshott claimed in the Telegraph (possibly take what Isabel Oakeshott says with a pinch of salt, particularly if you’re Matt Hancock and it’s that those WhatsApps are totally safe with her).

So now might be as good a time as any to check in on whether your local council etc on whether they’re using any other channels for work-related comms.

In other FOI news, my hopes of some 1997-style enthusiasm for FOI to go with Labour’s likely 1997-style general election win have probably taken a hit with Sue Grey reported to be taking up a role as Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff. She’s not known for being a big fan of freedom of information.

Long A&E waits

Some 23,000 “excess patient deaths” may have occurred due to long A&E wait last year, a medical college has claimed. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) said that in 2022 some 1.66 million people in England waited for more than 12 hours in A&E from the moment they arrived in the emergency department.

It sent a freedom of information request to NHS Digital to discover the number of patients who waited for more than 12 hours from their time of arrival in A&E, WalesOnline reports. It then calculated the standardised mortality ratio linked to the long waits. A study concluded that there was one extra death for every 72 patients that spend eight to 12 hours in the emergency department.

Failure to notify

Hundreds of sex offenders across the UK slipped off the radar of police in a three-year period, the BBC has revealed. Freedom of Information requests by BBC News to 45 police forces reveal 729 sex offenders had gone missing or were wanted for arrest from 2019-2021.

The BBC’s Freedom of Information requests also highlighted over the same three-year period:

  • There had been more than 5,500 offences committed by sex offenders of failing to comply with notification requirements such as not telling police they were living in a household with a child. Thirty-two police forces provided that data.
  • The Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) found 2,190 applicants for checks had criminal records and they had supplied incorrect or missed out personal details such as past names or aliases.
  • The BBC can also reveal a total of 6,740 prosecutions began over the past three financial years for offences by sex offenders of breaches of a sexual harm prevention order or interim order.

Cannabis farms

Police have shut down more than 300 cannabis grows across Stoke-on-Trent in just under two years. An investigation by StokeonTrentLive has revealed how across Staffordshire officers found 349 grows in 2021.

And the data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed the hotspot locations in the city. In 2021 the Moorcroft area of the city – which takes in the outskirts of Sneyd Green and Burslem, along with most of Cobridge – saw 18 grows busted. For the area covered by Stoke-on-Trent South Local Policing Team, the highest number were found in the Hanley Park and Shelton area with 18.

Academic repetition

More students at Bristol University are re-taking a year. In 2019, 375 students retook the year, according to an FOI by Epigram. That fell to 180 in the 2020 academic year.

However, this increased in the next two years to levels higher than pre-pandemic. In 2021, 570 students retook the year, while in 2022 it was 825.

Capped benefits

The government capped the benefits received by 12 families in Ceredigion last year – despite telling them they were not expected to be looking for work, Cambrian News reports. Charity Child Poverty Action Group said the figures demonstrate the flaws in the government’s approach to capping benefits, which is designed to encourage more people into work.

The figures were provided to the Child Poverty Action Group through Freedom of Information requests, which found more than one in three families across England, Scotland and Wales in receipt of Universal Credit are having their benefits capped while not being expected to work – 37,970 in total.

E-scooter complaints

More than 1,500 complaints have been made about Voi e-scooter riders – with the company dishing out hundreds of bans.

Two people riding one of the two-wheeled scooters prompted nearly 650 complaints to Southampton City Council. Pavement riding sparked 523 complaints while dangerous riders were reported 361 times.

Some 48 underage riders were reported, and one drunk rider was recorded in complaint data obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act.

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