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Crucial Times investigation lifts the lid on health claims

PUBLISHED: 16:06 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:08 12 August 2010

A COMMITTEE that refused to provide evidence that 100 professionals agreed with their plans to axe an A&E and maternity unit have admitted a year on - they NEVER had it in the first place. Health committee A Picture of Health (APoH) claimed that more th

A COMMITTEE that refused to provide evidence that 100 professionals agreed with their plans to axe an A&E and maternity unit have admitted a year on - they NEVER had it in the first place.

Health committee A Picture of Health (APoH) claimed that "more than 100 local clinicians" agreed with their plans to slash services at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup (QMS) at a 'workshop' in 2007. But when quizzed by your campaigning Times, under the Freedom of Information Act, they refused to provide a list of attendees. The unproven claims were made in a press statement in September 27, 2007 which read: "Clear recommendations for the future shape of hospital services in outer south-east London have emerged from a workshop involving over 100 clinicians from hospitals in Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham and Sidcup."

Since April last year, bosses at APOH refused to provide the clinicians' names claiming it would breach their confidentiality.

But a year on, and only when they were referred to the Information Commissioner's Office, they finally admitted a record of attendees was not even made.

This revelation throws fresh doubt that the proposals, which included stripping (QMS) of it's A&E, maternity unit and its in-patient paediatrics unit, were clinically not financially driven.

The proposals have sparked fears that many emergencies will be transferred to hospitals further away in Bromley, Lewisham and Dartford. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), which is investigating the decision to cut services, is due to report to the Health Minister by March 31.

Bexley councillor Sharon Massey said: "I take my hat off to the Kentish Times for pursuing this. This is absolutely crucial.

"I was asked by a member of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) why do I disagree with the proposals if they are backed by clinicians and I told them 'I was never there, I never saw it. I do not know that they did back them as we have no evidence of that.' And this has absolutely proven that. I shall be sending this article to the IRP to so they can use it as part of their investigation.

"Could you imagine what would happen if a politician was to do this?

"People are very influenced by clinicians.

"It is like I said all along - it is four people in a room that have made this decision."

The Times reported the fiasco to the Information Commissioner after a formal complaint to Greenwich Primary Care Trust also resulted in them blocking our request. Now bosses at the publicly-funded committee admitted to the Information Commission that only a list of invitees was held.

In their letter to APOH this month the Information Commission said: "I would take this opportunity to remind the PCT of its obligations to respond to requests in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

"In particular it is important to accurately confirm or deny whether or not information is held. In this case you inaccurately confirmed that the information was held. Therefore the PCT breached section 1 (1) (a) in handling this request for information."

A spokesman for APOH refused to comment on why they are unable to prove their claims but added: "The case for change for A Picture of Health was driven by clinicians and the level of clinical engagement has been, and remains, very high.

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