Sturgeon defends NHS in leukaemia case

According to Robin Harper, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party and their speaker on education, the new deputy first minister and Cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon, is backing legal action against the Scottish information commissioner by supporting action in the House of Lords to overrule a Scottish court.

The Green Party sought information about the number of childhood leukaemia cases by census ward since the inception of the freedom of information law. The NHS refused to comply. Greens appealed to the Scottish information commissioner who then ordered the NHS to release the information, in a form that would not identify individuals. The NHS again refused, and appealed to the Scottish courts. The NHS lost the appeal. The court of session ordered the release of the information as it posed no risk to data protection or patient confidentiality. The NHS is now appealing to the House of Lords, and has the support of Sturgeon.

In a letter to Harper, the deputy first minister said she accepted the view that "Barnardisation" (named after statistician George Barnard), the statistical method of protecting individual confidentiality proposed by the Scottish information commissioner, is "not appropriate in this case".

The case of NHS versus the Scottish information commissioner (and backed by the UK commissioner, who has responsibility for data protection) is to be heard in April in the House of Lords.

Rebuttal: Robin Harper on secrecy (Sunday Herald, 16 September 2007)