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Victory for paper in hospital closure secrecy row

A weekly paper fighting to save A&E and maternity services on its patch has scored a major victory in a year-long battle for information.

The Kentish Times’ Save Our Services campaign has tirelessly scrutinised proposals to axe the A&E and maternity departments at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup.

Now it has used the Freedom of Information Act to expose the fact that the Government-sponsored health trust behind the closure plan made unproven claims about the level of support among health professionals for the plans.

It put out a press statement stating that “more than 100 local clinicians” who attended a meeting on the proposed closures agreed with the plans, but when challenged by the paper, refused to say who they were.

The paper said its own feedback from health professionals and thousands of readers clearly showed strong opposition to the plans.

Eventually, the paper got the case referred to the Information Commissioner who discovered that the committee didn’t hold any proof of the attendees of the meeting in question.

The paper said the revelation throws fresh doubt on both the number of attendees and whether there was a positive consensus for the plans, as originally claimed.

It will now be used as evidence in an independent review of the consultation process currently taking place.

Kentish Times series group editor Melody Foreman said the campaign to save the local A&E department from the axe had touched the hearts of every reader.

“This made us determined to do everything we possibly could and use the FoI Act to completely fulfil our obligation to let the community know what was going on between the lines on this issue and any other we investigate.”

In a letter to the trust this month the Commissioner said: “I would take this opportunity to remind the primary care trust 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.”

Local Bexley councillor Sharon Massey added: “I take my hat off to the Kentish Times for pursuing this.”