You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 19/1/2024 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 19/1/2024 – #FOIFriday

What public bodies seem to forget is often it’s less embarrassing – and cheaper – to hand over information from Freedom of Information requests rather than try to sustain weak exemption arguments.

After a two-and-a-half-year transparency battle with Schools Week, the Cabinet Office revealed last year it paid a total of £13,000 to TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher and celebrity GP Dr Philippa Kaye to support the government’s post-lockdown push to get pupils back in classrooms.

The request was heading for a tribunal but dropped the Cabinet Office dropped the case at the last minute and handed over the information.

Now, a new FOI request has revealed the Cabinet Office spent £19,683 on legal fees to fight publication of the information – more than it paid to the celebrities.

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Rotten teeth

More than 100,000 children were taken to hospital with rotten teeth over five years amid a dental health crisis, damning new figures show.

In 2022, 116 needed extractions every day. The latest data shows 104,133 went to hospital with rotten teeth over the past five years. The hospital admission for tooth decay figures were obtained under Freedom of ­Information laws by the Lib Dems.

Converted guns

Converted handguns – originally designed to fire blanks – are currently responsible for more shooting incidents in the UK than “real” handguns. Police figures reveal there were 64 discharges from converted models in 2023, compared with 42 from real equivalent weapons.

Converted handguns were responsible for four deaths and 17 serious injuries. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) – which provided the provisional figures in response to a Freedom of Information request from BBC’s File On 4 – says there were also seven incidents in 2023 in which a converted sub-machine gun was fired.

Attacks on teachers

An MFR News investigation has revealed an increase in attacks on teachers and other support staff in Highland, Moray and Aberdeenshire.

An Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows Moray has seen a 214% increase in incidents over the last 5 years, while Highland has also experienced attacks more than trebling in that period. In Aberdeenshire, attacks using a weapon have increased from 6 in 2017-18 to 28 in the last school year.

Private ambulances

The Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust is spending millions on private providers to boost its resources due to high levels of demand – and that cost is growing. A Freedom of Information request was submitted to the Trust on the sum paid to private ambulance services over the last five financial years.

The Trust’s response shows that in the financial year of 2018/19, £1.34million was spent on private ambulances, yet by 2022/23 this figure had jumped to over £5.8million – a more than fourfold increase. In total, there were 20,638 instances of private ambulances attending emergency calls in 2021, but in 2022 this figure had decreased to 17,591. As of mid-December 2023, this number had dropped even further to 15,743.

Long waits for operations

Some patients are waiting four years for “life-changing” surgery on the NHS in Scotland, figures show. Data obtained by the Scottish Conservatives using freedom of information legislation reveals a patient in Tayside waited four years and 175 days for a hip or knee replacement.

In Greater Glasgow and Clyde, a patient waited three years and 330 days for a hip replacement. The health board also had the longest average wait of 340 days for a hip replacement. Meanwhile, NHS Lothian’s average wait for a knee replacement was 370 days.

Long waits for speech therapy

As of June 2023, 6,503 children are on waiting lists to see a speech and language therapist, according to freedom of information requests carried out by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists across all of Scotland’s health boards, local authorities and health and social care partnerships covering the last five years.

The college’s head of Scotland, Glenn Carter, warned numbers are at their highest in five years and told the PA news agency there were few signs of the situation improving. The average longest wait for initial contact with a speech and language therapist has increased in the last five years by 7.6 months.

Long waits for trains

Fully in support of frustrated commuters using FOI to find out more about public transport delays (and this is how I ended up FOI-ing Cardiff Bus on Twitter from a bus stop).

And as more rail companies get brought back into public ownership, there’s more you can send requests to (and Network Rail covers tracks everywhere).

Matt Strachan, from Oxford, made a Freedom of Information request (FOI) for data on disruption between Reading and Paddington.

Figures from the year before November 2023 show journey issues every day. There were 361 days where Network Rail was responsible for issues which delayed passengers. Points failures, which are the junctions where trains move from one track to another, caused 200 days of disruption.

Poor food hygiene

Got a restaurant or eatery (a very newspaper word) in your area with a terrible food hygiene rating? Use FOI to find out why it rated so badly.

A Cambridge Chinese takeaway hit with a zero star food hygiene rating has claimed the timing of the inspection was ‘really unlucky’.

The inspection took place on Saturday, November 11 – with the hygiene rating published in late December. The report states that the takeaway must repair the boiler to provide hot water, and carry out a ‘thorough cleaning’ of the entire site – which the restaurant says has now been carried out.

It also instructed Four Seasons to replace mouldy chopping boards, clear cobwebs from the kitchen ceiling, and remove clutter from the rear yard, food storage area and food shelves.

Social media crime

Old FOI, new social media platform. This one has been done for every site and app you could think of – asking for any crimes that mentions a particular one.

An increasing number of crime reports linked to TikTok are being probed, including films of alleged assaults, abuse, theft and intimidation. Police recorded 6,241 alleged offences linked to the social media site last year, up from 5,000 in 2022, a survey of 44 forces in England and Wales found.

Worryingly, given the site’s popularity with youngsters, there were also complaints of child abuse images, bullying and attempts to groom children. And it is feared the true number of crimes could be nearer 9,000 as 12 forces failed to reply to Freedom of Information requests.

Image by Rūdolfs Klintsons via Pexels

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