Case number: 160287
The applicant made a request to the Service on 19 January 2016 for details of the number of blood donations he had given from 1962 onwards.
On 26 February 2016, the Service granted access to the certain records relating to the applicant's donations. The applicant sought an internal review of that decision on 20 March 2016 as he believed that the records did not indicate the correct number of donations attributed to him. He suggested that records for the period 1962 to 1968 may have been destroyed. The Service issued an internal review decision on 9 April 2016, affirming the original decision. By letter dated 29 June 2016, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the Service's decision.
In conducting this review I have had regard to the communications between the Service and the applicant on the matter, and to the correspondence between this Office and both the Service and the applicant.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the Service was justified in its decision to refuse access to additional records on the ground that no further records exist or can be found.
I should explain at the outset that the FOI Act confers a right of access to records as opposed to a right of access to information. Where a request is made for information, this Office expects that such requests should, where possible, be treated as requests for records that contain the information sought. Accordingly, while the applicant simply sought details of the number of blood donations he had given, I am satisfied that the Service correctly treated the request as a request for any records that contain the information sought, i.e. those records that contain details of the number of donations given.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to a record may be refused if the record does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner's role in cases such as this is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether that decision was justified. This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision and also must assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the FOI body in looking for relevant records.
The evidence in "search" cases consists of the steps actually taken to search for records, along with miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the FOI body, on the basis of which the FOI body concluded that the steps taken to search for records were reasonable. On the basis of the information provided, the Commissioner forms a view as to whether the decision maker was justified in coming to the decision that the records sought do not exist or cannot be found. It is not normally the Commissioner's function to search for records that a requester believes are in existence.
On foot of queries raised by this Office in the course of this review, the Service provided details of the searches carried out in fulfilment of the applicant's request. The Service stated that it holds "manual records" in the form of "Donor Record Cards and the "Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire" completed for the donor for each attendance, and that its policy is not to destroy these original records. It submitted that since 2000 these records have been scanned to a computer system, while questionnaires pre-dating 1996 are held in microfiche format. Furthermore, the Service stated that donor records are also maintained in a separate electronic system, which has been updated from time to time with records migrated and verified on each occasion.
The Service submitted that, following blood donation clinics, it carries out a data verification and reconciliation process, ensuring that records produced on the clinic are accounted for and that the data corresponds with that held on the electronic donor database.
The Service stated that it carried out electronic searches for the applicant's records using two combinations of the applicant's name on the electronic repository of Donor Record Cards, as well as searching the electronic donor information system in its current form, and using their previous software systems also. Records were provided to the applicant, and the Service claimed that it is, "satisfied that [it has] been able to trace a full history of [the applicant's] donation history through a complete search of all our systems and through the processes outlined".
In the course of this review, the question of whether the Service holds "despatch" records was canvassed in correspondence with this Office, i.e. records detailing the onward transit of blood products derived from the applicant's donations. The Service stated that while such records are held by it under a unique identifying code traceable to the applicant, the process of retrieving relevant records and reconciling their identifiers would require a significant amount of work. Moreover, the Service stated that it only holds such records post-dating 1986, and that under the circumstances it does not believe in any case that a grant of access to these records would assist the applicant in tracing his donation history.
While I understand that the applicant firmly believes that he has given more blood donations than are reflected in the records provided to him, this review is not concerned with the question of what records he believes should exist, nor is it concerned with the veracity or completeness of those records that do exist. The question before me is whether the Service has taken all reasonable steps to locate records which contain details of the number of donations he has given. I am satisfied that it has.
Accordingly, I find that the Service was justified in deciding, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, that no further records coming within the scope of the applicant's request exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the Service's decision in this case.
Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given.