Scottish government agency ordered to publish care home deaths data

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The National Records of Scotland (NRS) has been criticised for its “lack of transparency” after failing to answer FOI requests relating to COVID care home deaths.

The government agency failed to release FOI requests from Scottish media publications, The Scotsman, The Herald, DC Thomson and STV citing “data protection sensitivities”, the BBC reported.

In its decision, the commissioner stated: “There is a strong public interest in disclosure of the information, to ensure that older people and their relatives have the necessary information to make an informed decision when choosing a care home or care home provider.

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“He considers that to deny those individuals the access to this relevant information would indeed be a lack of transparency, which is not in the public interest.”

The commissioner ordered the NRS to publish the statistics by 28 June.

An NRS spokesperson told CHP: “NRS continues to publish a range of information on COVID-related mortality, including where the location of death is a care home.

“Our statistical analysis provides valuable information on characteristics of the deceased as well as presentation at health board and local authority level. Following review by the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) of a FOI request to release data on individual care homes, NRS will make this data available in line with the original FOI request and the timeframe set out by the SIC.

“NRS carefully considered the potential public benefit of providing care home level data against the potential distress the public release of these data may cause care home staff, residents and families of residents. In reaching our conclusion, NRS was also mindful that we have placed significant amounts of information on care home deaths into the public domain and that this has provided a valued benefit whilst limiting the potential distress.

“NRS recognises that this is a complex issue and therefore welcomed the Scottish Information Commissioner’s conclusion on how we should consider the balance of public benefit and potential distress. This direction has been received and NRS is now acting on it and will release mortality data for individual care homes.”

A Scottish Care spokesperson said: “Scottish Care did not support the publication of this data because it is highly sensitive and risks identifying individual residents where small numbers are involved. This can potentially impact the privacy of individuals involved, the care home and frontline workers. There is a real risk to the health and wellbeing of staff, residents and relatives of the deceased.

“It was the case in March 2020 and it is still the case today that the most vulnerable, frail and elderly, and those with existing health conditions who are at the greatest risk of COVID-19. This fits closely with the needs of our care home residents and makes this population particularly vulnerable.

“The publication of the data in the format in which it was requested does not offer any context, narrative or understanding of the circumstances of the care homes involved. It does not tell the full story of the professionalism, sacrifice and dedication of frontline nursing and care staff who daily put themselves at risk and on the line to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens facing the threat of this deadly global virus.”

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The author Lee Peart

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