Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 15:26 UK

Lords deliver leukaemia judgement

Leukaemia blood cells
The request hopes to find childhood leukaemia figures in the region

A three-year struggle to release childhood leukaemia figures in Dumfries and Galloway has been referred back to Scotland's information commissioner.

The House of Lords has ruled he must decide whether the information can be "anonymised" sufficiently for it not to constitute personal data.

The case stems from a freedom of information request by the Green Party.

The Common Services Agency (CSA), which holds the figures, had appealed against rulings ordering their disclosure.

The case began in 2005 when Michael Collie - a worker for former Green MSP Chris Ballance - submitted a request to the NHS to find out the number of childhood leukaemia cases in Dumfries and Galloway.

The case is now back to the information commissioner and we really go back to scratch and see what he can do to ensure its release in anonymised form
Chris Ballance
Former Green MSP

It came as a result of concerns on the Solway coast that radioactivity from MoD facilities and nuclear plants could be blown ashore.

The CSA - commonly known as NHS National Services Scotland - said that the numbers involved were so small that releasing the information would identify individuals.

However, information commissioner Kevin Dunion and Court of Session judges subsequently ordered the figures to be made public.

That prompted the CSA to make its appeal to the House of Lords, which has now asked the information commissioner to look at the case again.

Mr Ballance said he was disappointed by the ruling, which would see a further delay to any potential release of the figures.

'Overriding concern'

"It means that we have got to wait even more time to get this resolved," he said.

"I think the House of Lords decision is not a victory for either side.

"The case is now back to the information commissioner and we really go back to scratch and see what he can do to ensure its release in anonymised form."

The House of Lords ruling was welcomed by the CSA, which said its "overriding concern" was "to protect the privacy of individual patients".

Blood samples
The CSA says its main concern has been to protect patient privacy

Dr Adam Bryson, medical director of NHS National Services Scotland, said its motive had been to secure clarity on a "serious issue that potentially impacts on the rights to privacy of each of the 60 million people in the UK".

He added: "We remain fully supportive of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act and will continue to make as much information available as possible where this is consistent with protecting patient privacy."

Mr Dunion said he was pleased the Lords had upheld his view that he was entitled to require authorities to anonymise personal data for release.

"Clearly, developments since the issue of the original decision mean that I need to address again what statistical information can be disclosed in this case whilst protecting the privacy of individual patients," he said.

"I am looking forward to working with the CSA to establish what information can be released in light of the House of Lords decision."

Leukaemia wrangle taken to Lords
03 Apr 08 |  South of Scotland
Green plea over leukaemia figures
28 May 07 |  South of Scotland
MSP awaits child leukaemia report
04 Dec 06 |  South of Scotland
Victory in information test case
01 Dec 06 |  South of Scotland

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