Mr X and Health Service Executive

CourtInformation Commission
JudgeSenior Investigator
Judgment Date20 Feb 2020
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator affirmed the HSE?s decision. She found that the records contained third party personal information and/or joint personal information (section 37) and that the public interest in protecting privacy rights outweighed the public interest in releasing the records.
Record NumberOIC-56433-P2W9W2
RespondentHealth Service Executive
Whether the HSE was justified in refusing access to the applicant’s parents’ medical records, including any information in the records that relates to him

20 February 2020


In a request dated 31 May 2019, the applicant sought access to his parents’ medical records. He said that, in particular, he wanted to find out what information is held about him on those records.

The HSE wrote to the applicant on 6 August 2019 saying that it did not consider it appropriate to process his FOI request because it was awaiting medical assessment reports relevant to wardship applications that were being undertaken. The FOI Act does not provide for a request not to be processed, or for a request to be refused, on this basis. However, I am satisfied that the HSE’s letter essentially amounts to a deemed refusal of the applicant’s request.

On 9 August 2019, the applicant sought an internal review of that deemed decision. The HSE’s internal review decision of 30 August 2019 refused access to records except for two Common Summary Assessment Reports relating to the applicant’s parents, which it released in part. It relied on sections 37(1) (third party personal information) and 37(7) (joint personal information) of the FOI Act in refusing to release the records and parts of records concerned. On 9 September 2019, the applicant applied to this Office for a review of the HSE’s decision.

I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act and I have decided to conclude it by way of a formal, binding decision. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to above exchanges and correspondence between this Office, the HSE and the applicant. I have also had regard to the contents of the records concerned and to the provisions of the FOI Act. I am making separate decisions on the applicant’s other applications for review arising from several different FOI requests.

Scope of the Review

The scope of this review is whether the HSE’s decision on the applicant’s request was justified under the provisions of the FOI Act. I note that the applicant has set out various questions to which he would like answers on matters that are obviously of great concern to him. While this review cannot be broadened to consider any records that were not sought in the original request, it may be useful for the applicant to be aware of the limitations of the FOI Act in situations such as he describes. I note that this Office is dealing with a separate application from the applicant under section 10 of the Act in relation to the provision of a statement of reasons. The FOI Act does not generally provide a mechanism for answering questions except to the extent that a question can reasonably be inferred to be a request for a record containing the answer to the question asked or the information sought.


Personal information - section 37

It is useful at this point to outline the Commissioner’s approach to granting partial access to records. Section 18(1) provides, that "if it is practicable to do so", access to an otherwise exempt record shall be granted by preparing a copy, in such form as the head of the public body concerned considers appropriate, of the record with the exempt information removed. Section 18(1) does not apply, however, if the copy provided for thereby would be misleading (section 18(2) refers).

The HSE has in this case gone to considerable effort to grant access to parts of some records covered by the applicant’s request, which I accept is in the...

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