NHS Freedom of Information requests from BBC have surged since SNP took office

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Freedom of Information requests submitted by the BBC to Scotland’s health boards have increased dramatically since the SNP came to power, it has emerged.

Information obtained by Newsnet Scotland has revealed that BBC Scotland FoI requests increased by almost seven hundred per cent when compared with Labour’s last year in power at Holyrood.

According to official records for those Health Boards for which information was available, in 2005/6 which was the first year the FoI legislation was enforced, BBC Scotland submitted just 14 Freedom of Information requests.  The corporation submitted the same number of requests the following year, 2006/7.

However, by 2012/13 the number of official requests submitted by the BBC had jumped from 14 to an incredible 109, a seven fold increase.

The number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the BBC began increasing in year 2007/8 which was the SNP’s first year in office, almost doubling from 14 when under Labour to 25.  The number remained broadly similar until the year leading up to the 2011 Scottish elections when it jumped dramatically to 87.

Newsnet Scotland invited the BBC to explain the sudden jump in FoI requests but as yet we have received no response.

Newsnet Scotland can reveal that a similar pattern has emerged from the Labour party with a dramatic increase in identifiable FoI submissions.

In 2008/9 Scottish Labour submitted just eleven requests to Scottish NHS boards for information.  However, in line with the BBC’s increased use of FoI, the number of requests jumped dramatically to 109 in the year leading up to the 2011 Holyrood elections.  Last year records show that Labour submitted a total of 83 identifiable requests.

The number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the SNP when Labour were last in power totalled just seven.

Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that in the case of at least one NHS board, one Freedom of Information request from Scottish Labour contained an astonishing ten different questions.  The same board received a Freedom of Information request from the BBC which contained seven separate questions.

In 2013 Lothian health board fielded no fewer 49 separate FoI requests from either the BBC or Holyrood’s pro-Union parties.  The requests contained 160 individual questions, some demanding information spread over several years and broken down into multiple categories.

Some health boards could not provide details of which parties had submitted FoI requests but simply listed all requests as coming from MPs or MSPs.  Forth Valley listed 61 such FoI requests last year, Tayside fielded 90 and Borders gave a total of 100 from “parliament”.

Newsnet Scotland attempted to find out the cost of the FoI requests to the Scottish NHS, but none of the boards could provide the information.

A spokesman for the Scottish Information Commissioner told Newsnet Scotland: “There is nothing which compels authorities to log details of the cost of FOI requests – authorities may choose to do so if they wish, but there is no statutory requirement to do so.”

The spokesman added: “In relation to cost, it is suggested that authorities collect data on the number of times a fee is charged, and the reasons for a FOI refusals.  As you may be aware requests can be refused when the cost of responding exceeds £600.  Is will therefore be for this reason that authorities will be able to tell you the cost of requests which cost over £600, as this will have been calculated in order to support the issue of a refusal notice.”

However a study carried out by University College London in 2010 estimated that the average cost of FoI requests in Scotland stood at £189 per request.

Given the incomplete information provided by Scotland’s NHS boards, it was not possible to determine an accurate figure for the cost of FoI requests to the whole of the Scottish NHS.

Health boards for which the party making the request was identified included: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Orkney, Lothian, Fife, NHS Health Scotland and State Hospitals Board.  Nine boards grouped all political parties together.

All health boards identified the BBC with the exception of: Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Shetland who grouped requests into either “journalists” or “media”.