Evidence of where surgical masks provided to staff and patients protect against viruses: FOI review

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

Please can you provide evidence of where these surgical masks provided to staff and patients protect against viruses? I look forward to receiving the scientific studies that evidence this protection against viruses


I have been asked to consider your request afresh as I was not involved with the handling of your initial request. I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed, with modifications.

I have noted that our initial response to your request did not clearly set out why exemptions applied to some of the information that you requested. I apologise for this omission, and will feed this back to the original case handler to improve future responses.

I have gone on to consider the information afresh, and have reconsidered the exemptions applied and the public interest test where this was applicable. In doing so, I have found that some of the information previously withheld under exemption section 29(1)(a) should have been released. I now enclose this information with this response. I also note that the previous response referred to section 29(1)(b), however, this does not apply, as section 29(1)(b) only applies to direct Minister to Minister communications, which in this case, did not occur.

Information was withheld in all remaining documents provided in the original response under Section 29(1)(a) of FOISA which exempts information from disclosure as it relates to the formulation or development of government policy.

I consider that the remaining information that has been withheld under Section 29(1)(a) was correctly withheld under that exemption as it relates to the policy decision-making process. This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’, which I have also reconsidered with regard to the remaining withheld information.

I have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. In setting out the factors in favour of releasing this information, I recognise that disclosing the information would give the public better understanding of the policy making process that directly impacted upon the lives of those affected at that time. On the other hand, factors in favour of withholding this information are centred around the fact that this is historic decision making based on the risk assessment of the people that advise government, and that it is important to ensure that those discussions can be held freely. Taking account of all the circumstances of this case, I have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption.

In response to your question asking why names were redacted from the information originally released, I can confirm that names were withheld under section 38(1)(b) (personal data) of FOISA. This exemption applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, i.e., names/contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

Through my review, it appears that the fifth attached document of the original response (S1169_Facemasks_for_health_care_workers – REDACTED.pdf) is in fact available online. Please accept our apologies for not being aware of this in the original response. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. The link to that document is as follows: HOCI and EMG: Masks for healthcare workers to mitigate airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2, 25 March 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The original response also mentions exemptions at section 25(1) and 27(1). Under the bullet point ‘Cochrane Review – January 2023’, although section 25(1) was applied (whereby the exact information is published and accessible to the requester), we did not provide the direct link to the published review, only a summary article. Please accept my apologies for this. The link for this article is as follows: Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses - Jefferson, T - 2023 | Cochrane Library

I have also concluded that section 27(1) was not applied correctly, as it refers to a document that was to be published by another body. We cannot apply section 27(1) to information that we are not going to publish ourselves as we are unable to evidence the intention to publish within 12 weeks that is required by that exemption.

If you do not have internet access to obtain the above information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

FOI - 202300355858 - Information release


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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