Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 14/4/2023 – #FOIFriday

If you have time to write an article about your overdue FOI request, you have time to complain properly.

Sometimes it feels like a competition for who has managed to find the public body that’s worst at responding. It’s been 100 days since we made the request. It’s been six months since the request was made. It’s been three years…

For example: The Star submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to South Yorkshire Police regarding internal complaints of sexual harassment and assault made to the force’s Human Resources department. However, 63 working days have passed, and the request has not been responded to, despite the Act requiring a response within 20 working days.

A better approach might be to send a complaint to ICO so they can do their job of ensuring public bodies comply with their responsibilities under the Act. It’s likely to be quicker (these kind of straightforward complaints should be dealt with quickly by the ICO) and it’ll actually get you some kind of response (not necessarily a helpful one).

The alternative to waiting forever if you’ve done a big round robin is to just use the responses you’ve had (particularly if they’re helpful), as The Times did with its request about long waits for people stuck in hospital despite being fit to leave.

So what other stories did people who actually got response write this week…

Bed blockers

Patients who are considered medically fit for discharge are occupying NHS hospital beds for more than a year. University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust last year discharged a patient 491 days after they were considered fit to leave, while a patient at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust was released after 440 days in a hospital bed. One mental health patient in Greater Manchester faced a delay of 540 days.

Some NHS trusts have recorded patients waiting over a year, while 35 others recorded waits of more than 100 days. The article suggests there are likely to be other long waits nationally, as only about a third of NHS trusts in England responded to freedom of information requests from The Times.

Fix your own backyard first

Ambulance waits in Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s own constituency, North East Cambridgeshire, have been revealed to be among the worst in the UK. Category one patients (the most serious blue light calls) in the are waited an average of 14 minutes for an ambulance to arrive last year, the Mirror reports.

The Liberal Democrats analysed NHS ambulance trusts’ responses to freedom of information requests and found that rural areas have a 45% longer waiting time for ambulances to arrive than urban areas, with patients in rural areas waiting 12 minutes on average for ambulances to arrive for Category one calls.

Grooming crimes

The West Midlands has seen a surge in online grooming crimes, with almost nine-fold increase from 23 reports in 2017 to 202 last year, the Express and Star reports.

Popular social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook were among those used to groom children, according to the statistics obtained through a freedom of information request.

Sewage leaks

Sewage leaks into rivers and onto beaches have been making headlines, but there’s other places where crumbling infrastructure is causing problems.

Almost 200 sewage leaks have been recorded in Scottish hospitals over the last five years, with half of NHS boards affected by the problem. A series of freedom of information requests submitted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed the scale of the problem.

The majority of the 196 incidents recorded since 2019 occurred at University Hospital Monklands in North Lanarkshire, I reports. It said that 105 sewage leaks occurred there due to ageing pipework and faulty drainage systems. A modern £400m replacement hospital is due to be built nearby, but its completion has been delayed until 2031.

Cannabis farms

In the past two years, 340 cannabis farms have been shut down by the Humberside Police , with a Freedom of Information request revealing the hotspots in North and North East Lincolnshire. In 2022, 63 cannabis farms were found across the regions, with police making 222 arrests in total, according to the Grimsby Telegraph.

One of the most prominent areas for cannabis grows was Grimsby’s East Marsh, where 23 cannabis grows were discovered. This is 16 more than the neighbouring West Marsh, which had the second-highest number.

Careless driving

Only one prosecution resulted from 286 reports of careless, inconsiderate or dangerous driving around cyclists considered by West Midlands Police in 2022, reports. The data was revealed through a Freedom of Information request that also showed that 213 of the alleged close passes submitted last year resulted in no further action being taken.

Meanwhile, 69 drivers captured on video committing close passes were offered a National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme course as an alternative to prosecution.

Under investigation

Aberdeen City Council has revealed 44 of its staff are currently under investigation. The staff are being formally investigated by the council for alleged breaches of its “disciplinary, dignity, respect at work and grievance procedures”. Behaviour could include acting inappropriately, harassment, bullying or discrimination.

Conservative councillor for Torry and Ferryhill Michael Kusznir obtained the information from the council using freedom of information legislation, the Press and Journal reports.

Dog poo

A classic of local journalism – when irate local residents meet a lack of useful action.

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that only eight fines were issued for dog fouling in Sefton in the whole of 2022. Residents are frustrated and angry about the situation, reports the Liverpool Echo, with some taking to social media to complain about the mess in their local streets.

Green Party council candidate Neil Doolin, who submitted the FOI, has called on Sefton Council to increase its prosecution rates for dog fouling and questioned where enforcement officers have been patrolling in Sefton to have managed so few fines in a year.

ChatGPT wrote my essay

Cardiff University students have admitted to using ChatGPT, an AI chatbot, to write their essays, with some saying their achieving first-class grades, according to the BBC. Cardiff University is reviewing its policies and will soon issue new university-wide guidance following the discovery.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that there were 14,443 visits to the ChatGPT site on the university’s wi-fi networks during the January 2023 assessment period, compared to zero visits recorded the previous month.

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