NHS Dumfries and Galloway also breached the legislation by “failing to give reasonable advice and assistance” in the way it responded to Dorothy-Grace Elder’s requests, according to an investigation by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
ICO Rosemary Agnew said there was “no doubt” the board held the information requested and had “wrongly” claimed otherwise in a letter signed by its chief executive, Jeff Ace.
The statistics in question related to waiting times for sufferers of chronic pain in the Dumfries and Galloway area, which were in actual fact among the best in Scotland.
In a letter dated 18 January 2016, chief executive Jeff Ace said an original decision, which saw Dorothy-Grace’s request rejected, should have advised her that the information “is not held” by the health board and referred her to NHS statistics body, ISD Scotland.
The figures were finally disclosed to Ms Elder by ISD Scotland on 4 February, but the public body confirmed that its data was based on figures submitted to it by health boards.
Dorothy-Grace, pictured above left, a freelance jounalist, health campaigner and former member of the Scottish Parliament, is now honorary secretary of Holyrood’s cross-party group on chronic pain.
In a piece for Glasgow-based daily The Herald, she wrote: “The tangled web spun by a health board in defiance of FoI legislation has big implications for secrecy in the NHS. And it’s rare for the public’s suspicions to be confirmed. From untrue statements to behind-the-scenes ploys, this FoI was still refused. Over what? A request for its chronic pain clinic waiting times.”
Dorothy-Grace, who began her career with BBC Scotland in the 1970s, added: “FoI officials uncovered dozens of emails and some 27 different officials having their time wasted over one simple request answered by Scotland’s 13 other boards without problems.
“This board had no reason to cover up its records; its pain patients were seen on time. Its actions show determination to trounce transparency for patients and uphold a prior establishment decision not to produce any Scottish figures.”