Request for information about mental health
Refusal justified but not because request was vexatious—some information not held but would need to be created—some information could not be provided without substantial collation or research
A requester made an extensive request to a district health board (DHB) for information about mental health. The request comprised five parts, one of which had a further six sub-parts, and one of which had a further 15 sub-parts. The request was refused as vexatious and the requester complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found that some of the requests were not for ‘official information’. They sought the DHB’s opinion or explanation on various matters relating to the care and treatment of mental health patients using the requester’s view as the starting premise. The requested opinion or explanation would have to be created in order to respond to the request. For example, one of the requests sought:
An explanation as to why...inmates are being told that ‘mental illness’ is a) an organic disease, b) genetic in origin, or c) due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and that mind and/or mood altering drugs are administered to correct this imbalance, when there is no evidence to support any of these falsities and, in fact, they were thoroughly debunked as far back as 1983.
The Ombudsman also found that some of the requests could not be answered without substantial collation or research (section 18(f) of the OIA), because they were for information that was not routinely recorded, and which might only be retrieved following a manual review of individual patient files. By way of example, the requester sought the percentage of patients advised about alternative therapies and offered alternative therapies instead of ‘mind and/or mood altering drugs’. Given that there were an average 1000 admissions per year to the DHB’s mental health services, compiling the information would have had a significant and unreasonable impact on the DHB’s operations.
The Ombudsman was satisfied that the request was properly refused, though not on the basis that it was vexatious.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.