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The father of a junior doctor who died following exhausting shifts has accused ministers of obsessive secrecy after he appealed against the decision to make 37 redactions to a 21-page report – and was sent a revised version with 29 redactions.
Brian Connelly’s daughter Lauren died after a car crash while driving home from Inverclyde Royal Infirmary where she had been working long shifts. Since her death in 2011 her father has campaigned tirelessly to protect other overworked junior doctors from dangerous fatigue.
In 2018 the Scottish Government commissioned an Expert Working Group to examine how it could implement a 48-hour working week for hospital doctors.
Connelly says the report was completed in January last year and, since then, he has written to Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman four times asking to see a copy.
When that failed, he submitted a Freedom of Information request for a copy. But, when he was finally received the report, its executive summary and conclusions had been redacted. In total the 21-page report contained 37 redactions.
Connelly appealed and has been sent a new report – this time with 29 redactions – again deleting its executive summary and recommendations.
The report contains passages describing how working hours and rotas impact doctors’ fatigue and safety, and how they also affect patient safety and medical outcomes.
The Scottish Government originally justified the redactions, saying it was not in the public interest to publish the information.
After Connelly appealed, Scottish Government business manager Susan Curran agreed this ruling did not apply to all the redacted material. However, she also decided a second reason for denying a full FoI release – that doing so might deter medical and other professionals from giving evidence to future studies – did apply.
Connelly, of East Kilbride, said Lauren started her job at Inverclyde Royal in the summer of 2011 with a roster of 90 hours over just 10 days.
He is calling for junior doctors to work a maximum 48 hours in any given week – and health boards should not be able to circumvent this by averaging out the number of hours a doctor works per week over a six-month period. Junior doctors in some Scottish hospitals revealed they worked more than 87 hours in a week.
He said: “We are being forbidden to see in full a report that examines junior doctors’ dangerously long hours and provides a potential remedy and time scales for its implementation. I have been sent another copy of the report but all the useful information still does not appear. The Scottish government seems determined to not publish the report. I have appealed to the Information Commissioner by letter and await his decision.”
Medical campaigners Doctors for the NHS also criticised the ongoing secrecy over the report, saying: “Why is the truth about doctors’ hours not being disclosed? No workforce can be expected to tolerate these conditions indefinitely and not be expected to make mistakes or suffer directly. Open and honest explanations should be the minimum expectation. This pervasive culture of hide or stay silent has to stop.”
The Scottish Government said: “We handle FOI requests in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2002. We only apply redactions to information where these are appropriate and are in line with the law.”
Education minister John Swinney is at the centre of a new transparency row over three unminuted meetings about an important review of what Scots pupils are taught.
No minutes were taken at the discussions Swinney held with the leading international organisation reviewing Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence.
The education minister admitted he held the private meetings with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) under questioning from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
We told in February how the Scottish government had been handed interim findings but was insisting they must stay under wraps until after the election.
Days later MSPs passed a motion demanding Swinney release the draft report but he has yet to do so, saying it is for the OECD to publish its findings. Last month, he released a summary to MSPs on the condition it was not leaked but opposition politicians said it lacked any detail.
An OECD review of the Curriculum for Excellence in 2015 said one in 10 schools was “weak or unsatisfactory” and a fifth were rated only “satisfactory”.
Swinney has now told the Lib Dems he met the OECD three times since September 2019 to discuss the curriculum review but no minutes were taken at any of the meetings because there were no actions.
A series of meetings involving SNP ministers have been unminuted, raising concerns among campaigners for transparent government. The undiaried and unminuted meetings included a number of discussions involving Nicola Sturgeon that featured in the Alex Salmond affair this year.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie wants ministers to agree to a new “duty to record” so the public can access accounts of important ministerial meetings and decision-making processes.
Rennie said: “It is astonishing John Swinney has blocked the public from seeing a single word that was said at three meetings he had with the OECD.
“This is the umpteenth time that no minutes have been taken of important meetings. The SNP prefers stitch-ups, secrecy and spin to any kind of accountability.”
Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “A route back to public trust means the workings of government being as transparent and open as possible.”
The Scottish government said meetings between the OECD Review Team and the coordination team were not routinely minuted as they focused on the practicalities of delivering the review.
Families who lost loved ones to Covid have again urged Nicola Sturgeon to set a date for a public inquiry into the official handling of the pandemic.
A campaign group was disappointed when, in a meeting with the first minister, she refused to commit to a timetable and suggested a UK-wide public inquiry was still her preferred option.
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice fear seeking a four-nations approach means nothing will happen for months despite a parliamentary vote for an immediate public inquiry in November.
Alan Wightman, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose mother Helen died of coronavirus in a Fife care home, said: “The first minister said she will try again to get a four-nations approach but if she can’t get that she will commit to going for an inquiry in Scotland only. I was floored. I wasn’t expecting that.
“I reminded her of the vote in parliament in November for an immediate inquiry and that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman already tried for a four nations approach and didn’t get it.
“A four-nations approach is doomed from the start. Why would you waste time on that when you know the answer is going to be no?”