Medics gagged in A&E closure row
PUBLISHED: 17:47 10 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:50 25 August 2010
CLINICIANS supposedly invited to a controversial meeting ahead of plans to slash health services have been silenced by NHS bosses. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times obtained a list of invitees to an Emergency Medicine workstream which set
CLINICIANS supposedly invited to a controversial meeting ahead of plans to slash health services have been silenced by NHS bosses.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times obtained a list of invitees to an Emergency Medicine 'workstream' which set the wheels in motion for proposals to slash vital A&E and maternity units at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup (QMS).
QMS is set to lose it's A&E in the autumn and emergency cases are to be diverted to Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough and Queen Elizabeth's in Woolwich. Darent Valley in Dartford has also been earmarked to cater for any overspill.
Health committee A Picture of Health (APoH) claimed that during a meeting in September 2007 resulted in a 'high level of consensus' by '100 clinicians' from Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham for services to be streamlined into just two hospital units.
However, they refused to prove their claims by providing any record or minutes of the meeting or a list of attendees.
After a battle with the Times that lasted more than a year, APoH were finally ordered to hand over a list of clinicians invited to the controversial meeting - but not before Trusts had GAGGED them from making their opinions known.
One clinician named on the list told the Times: "I can't respond... because you're a newspaper. I'll have to thank you for your call and say goodbye."
A secretary of another consultant from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich said: "We have been told to direct all calls from the Kentish Times Newspaper to our press office."
Clinical Director, Specialist Medicine at QEH Dr Judy Russell said: "I may be allowed to speak to the press but I am an employee of the Trust and have been told to direct you to the press office."
A spokesman for APoH said that they did not personally advise clinicians not to speak to the press, adding: "Before handing over the information to the Times, we contacted the organisations that employ these individuals, the University Hospital Lewisham and the South London Health Care Trust, and we alerted them to the fact that the information was to be in the public domain. They then made contact with those on the list to alert them to that fact.
"It is not for us to advise individual hospital trusts on how they use this information."
But a spokesman for the South London Healthcare NHS Trust (SLHNT) said: "It is Trust policy that all members of staff should refer press enquiries to the Communications office in the first instance. We are happy to facilitate press queries and in this case agreed to collate and respond on their behalf."
Speaking on behalf of seven out of 53 named clinicians, the SLHNT said they all they had attended the meeting and agreed with the streamlining of services.
However, the Times had already spoken to two of the seven clinicians - one could not remember attending the meeting and another said he was completely opposed to cuts to A&E services.
A spokesman for Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust said: "We are aware that you have contacted clinicians, which is fine, however you will appreciate that it is policy for our almost 3,000 staff to refer all media enquiries to the Communications Department.
This is standard operating procedure and is common practice in large organisations. The correct process has been followed in this instance and I would expect it to be followed on every occasion. I have had no discussion with APoH on this matter.