Case number: 130300
The FOI request in question was part of a broader FOI request received by the HSE on 21 February 2012. A request was also made under section 17 of the FOI Act for the amendment of the applicant's discharge summary dated 22 October 2010 which contained errors concerning who brought the applicant to Shannon Doc and to the Accident and Emergency department in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital (A&E). The discharge summary indicated that the Gardai had brought the applicant to Shannon Doc and then onto A&E. The HSE granted the request for the amendment to the record. The applicant asked for a statement of reasons for how these errors occurred in the discharge summary. The HSE granted the request and provided a statement of reasons by letter dated 03 May 2012. On 17 June 2013 the applicant sought an internal review of the HSE's decision as he was not satisfied with the statement of reasons provided. The HSE's internal review decision of 23 July 2013 provided two further explanations from the doctors involved to the applicant. On 24 November 2013, the applicant applied to the Office of the Information Commissioner for a review of the HSE's decision.
On 12 February 2014, Ms Mary Byrne, Investigator, spoke to the applicant by telephone outlining her preliminary views on the matter and providing him with an opportunity to make any further comments which he wished to have taken into account before this Office reached a final decision. The applicant gave detailed information on the background to his attendance at A&E and some detail about what occurred since that time.
I consider that the review should now be brought to a close by the issue of a formal, binding decision. In conducting this review I have had regard to the provisions of the FOI Act, the relevant submissions of the HSE and those of the applicant, and to the statements of reasons issued to the applicant.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the statements of reasons which issued to the applicant are adequate for the purposes of section 18 of the FOI Act. It is not part of the function of the Information Commissioner to adjudicate on how public bodies perform their functions generally. The Commissioner's remit does not extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act for which reasons are sought nor indeed would it be appropriate under the FOI Act to make a finding as to whether any "acts" carried out by the HSE were the correct ones in all the circumstances.
For the purposes of this review I am considering the three statements issued by the HSE to the applicant to be, together, the HSE's overall statement of reasons for the purposes of section 18 of the FOI Act.
Section 18 of the FOI Act provides that a person is entitled to a statement of reasons for an act of a public body where that person is affected by that act and has a material interest in a matter affected by the act or to which it relates. Where a person applies for a review of a decision of a public body on the ground that s/he is not satisfied with the contents of the decision given, the Commissioner's role is confined to deciding whether the public body has complied with the requirements imposed on it by section 18, i.e. whether the statement is adequate.
It would be useful to set out what the Commissioner considers should be the principal features of a statement of reasons having regard to section 18. In the Commissioner's view, a statement of reasons should be intelligible and adequate having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. The statement should be sufficiently clear to enable the applicant to understand without due difficulty why the public body acted as it did. It should identify the criteria relevant to the act and explain how each of the criteria affected the act. However, a statement must not necessarily contain a detailed clarification of all issues identified by an applicant as relevant to a particular act or decision. The Commissioner considers that the purpose of section 18 of the FOI Act is to ensure that such reasons for an act as may be identified are conveyed to the applicant; where reasons cannot be identified, it is not the purpose of section 18 to require the creation, after the event, of such reasons. Furthermore his remit does not extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act for which reasons are sought.
In its statement of reasons provided to the applicant in its letter dated 03 May 2012, the HSE provided a summary of events as set out by one of the doctors who treated him, following a review of the notes held by the HSE. That doctor said that there was nothing in the notes that indicated that the applicant was brought to either Shannon Doc or to A&E by the Gardai. She said that she cannot recall why she recorded incorrect information about this event, however, it was likely that the Garda presence was included in the discharge letter to illustrate the stressful situation the applicant was in prior to his admission.
On 23 July 2013 the HSE, in its supplementary statements of reasons, expanded on its first statement of reasons. In its letter to the applicant it included two statements, one from the doctor referred to above and another from a second doctor involved in his treatment. The first doctor again stated that she does not know why she thought that the Gardai had brought the applicant to Shannon Doc when it was clear that they had not. She said that she may have picked up incorrect information from the other doctors or nursing staff on the ward but given the passage of time since this incident she could not be sure. The second doctor said that, it is her understanding that the applicant was not brought to A&E by the Gardai, but given the passage of time and considering the hundreds of patients she dealt with in that year she said that she could not recall this exact event. She said that she subsequently requested a garda report to confirm this fact. She also said that his notes have been officially corrected in this respect.
Having examined the three statements of reasons given in the HSE's letters to the applicant it is clear that, given the passage of time, the doctors in question explain that they cannot recall why they recorded incorrect information on the applicant's discharge summary. However, both agree that the information recorded was incorrect and the HSE has since amended the discharge summary accordingly. Having considered the matter, the explanation provided by the relevant doctors are, in my view, reasonable and I see no reason to doubt them.
The purpose of section 18 of the FOI Act, as I understand it, is to ensure that such reasons for an act as may be identified are conveyed to the applicant. It is important to bear in mind that not every act of a public body must be capable of being explained by way of a written statement of reasons and the fact remains that an applicant may not agree with the reasons given without these necessarily being inadequate. In this case, I am satisfied that the explanations of the accepted (and subsequently amended) inaccuracies in the record are reasonable in the circumstances.
Accordingly, I find that the HSE's overall statement of reasons is adequate under section 18 of the FOI Act in the circumstances of this case.
Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby decide that the HSE has complied with the requirements of section 18 of the Act in this case.
A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than eight weeks from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.