Secret ISTCs 'have to go'

Delegates at the LMCs’ conference have united to deplore the development of ‘secretly planned independent treatment centres’ (ISTCs).

Dr Mark Corcoran told delegates about a 'sinister' move locally in his constituency of Avon to block access using the Freedom of Information Act to information about the building of an independent treatment centre by using let-out clauses relating to commercial secrecy and the ambit of central government.

Dr Corcoran told the conference that the Department of Health told his local Strategic Health Authority that a preferred bidder had been selected to build an ISTC.

'It was already a done deal. At no time were any discussions held locally about the type of services it would provide or even its location.

'The local PCT did not know. The local authority did not know. The Strategic Health Authority did know but said they didn't know much. The scheme was imposed and we understand that it will be funded for five years by topslicing the NHS budget so it will have a guaranteed income even if it sees no patients.'

In a move he dubbed 'as appalling as it is sinister', Dr Corcoran said that the imposition of a new hospital was without consideration for the overall service.

'I am not against the introduction of ISTCs, so long as negotiations are 'open, honest, shared locally and created on a level playing field'.

'This appalling secrecy has got to go'.

Dr John Grenville, Derbyshire LMCs, pointed out that the commercial confidentiality clause of the FoI Act is relative rather than absolute.

'Avon LMC should have asked the Information Commissioner what the harm that would be done to whom and how much and why did that outweigh the presumed public benefit in knowing that a new hospital was going to be.

'They certainly need to go to the Information Commissioner if they have really been told that because this is a central government initiative it is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act is there precisely to hold central government to account.'

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