The national organ donation service at Auckland District Health Board has been put on notice by an official-information watchdog after it was caught out deleting public records.
Organ donation campaigner Andy Tookey, whose 12-year-old daughter Katie is expected to need a liver transplant eventually to correct a rare birth defect, asked Organ Donation NZ for a copy of a computer presentation on a national audit of deaths in intensive care units.
He hoped it might shed light on matters such as the extent to which families of potential posthumous donors were not asked about organ donation.
He has been pushing for changes to New Zealand's organ donation system, with the aim of increasing the number of donors, since his daughter's diagnosis with a liver disorder when she was a baby. He believes weaknesses in New Zealand's system are why the country's annual organ donation rate -- fewer than 10 donors per million people -- is far lower than in some European countries.
The health board refused his request under the Official Information Act on grounds of dead people's privacy, an obligation of confidentiality to the ICUs supplying the information, and because a statistical summary would be made public "soon", more than four months after the request last November.
Chief executive Ailsa Claire said the request mirrored one by Mr Tookey in 2009, which was declined by the DHB in a decision later upheld by the Ombudsman.
Regardless, Mr Tookey appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman against the latest refusal, last December, relating to a presentation given by a senior doctor last July.
Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson told Mr Tookey by letter earlier this month that he had stopped his investigation because the DHB "no longer holds the requested information ... "
"I have reminded ADHB of the legal requirements to retain such documents, under the Public Records Act 2005.
"I have also told ADHB that they cannot refuse such a request on the basis that a summary of the audit will be made available 'soon' in the ODNZ annual report, if that is to be published more than four months after the date of an OIA request for the original slides."
Mr Tookey said Professor Paterson phoned him before the letter arrived and was very concerned by the deletion of information.
"He took them at their word when they said they didn't deliberately delete it."
Mr Tookey was sceptical, however, because of the poor relationship between him and the organ donation service and the difficulty in obtaining official information about its activities.
An Auckland DHB spokesman said doctors used the audit to review their practice and improve care. He understood the presentation was regularly updated, so the information sought by Mr Tookey had been overwritten.
He said the DHB acknowledged that public records should not be deleted.
The Public Records Act provides for maximum fines of $5000 for an individual and $10,000 for groups for a person who "wilfully or negligently ... destroys a public record otherwise than in accordance with ... this act".