Regulator rules that information has been unlawfully withheld
Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/Press Association Images
National Records of Scotland (NRS) has been told it must release Covid-19 death figures for care homes after the Scottish Information Commissioner ruled that the information had been unlawfully withheld and the figures were in the public interest.
NRS has published overall numbers of deaths in care homes but, according to a report in The Scotsman, the Scottish Information Commissioner has ruled it breached freedom of information legislation by refusing to release the number of confirmed and suspected Covid-19-related deaths in individual care homes in Scotland.
NRS first claimed the data was exempt from disclosure due to data-protection issues. This was rejected by the information commissioner on the basis that “‘personal data’ must relate to living individuals”.
NRS then attempted to block the release of information based on the possibility of the figures negatively impacting the commercial interests of care home operators. It also claimed release would risk the health and safety of care home staff and residents.
Both of those arguments were rejected by the information commissioner on the basis that they were flawed and speculative.
In the decision notice, the commissioner stated there was a “strong public interest” in the release of the information and failure to release it would constitute a “lack of transparency”.
The notice added that disclosure was important 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”.
NRS will now make the data available in line with the decision.
A spokesperson for the National Records of Scotland said: “Following review by the Scottish Information Commissioner of a freedom of information request to release data on individual care homes, NRS will make this data available in line with the original freedom of information request and the timeframe set out by the SIC”.
The release of the information is the result of a collaborative project by between The Scotsman, The Herald, DC Thomson and STV.
NRS is a non-ministerial department of the Scottish Government which, in addition to serving as a national archive, also oversees statistics and the country’s decennial nationwide census. Unlike England and Wales, the NRS has postponed this year’s scheduled population survey until 2022, on account of the pandemic.