Extraordinary coincidence or evidence of collusion?

Fears that the Isle of Wight NHS Trust is not maintaining independence from Portsmouth NHS Trust have been raised by responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

There are concerns that arrangements brought in last year for the two trusts to collaborate more closely could lead to decisions being made off-Island.

The IW Observer has been trying to uncover the background about recent changes affecting the Lighthouse Clinic, which provides vital dermatology services to Islanders. Both trusts were approached separately with FOIA requests for background documents.

Each was instructed to communicate with the IW Observer, before consulting with any other body.

In a response that has sparked suspicion of collusion, both trusts delivered strikingly similar and equally unlawful replies.

Responding to the requests, both said our questions should be directed to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Integrated Care Board.

The FOIA requires public bodies to do two things: confirm whether they hold relevant information, and either disclose it or give a legitimate reason for withholding it. Both trusts ignored both requirements.

Editor of the IW Observer, Carole Dennett, expressed her concern. “I was astonished to receive these responses, both saying the same thing,” she said. “There are a number of lawful reasons why information can be withheld – but ‘we think you should ask someone else this question’ isn’t one of them!

“The responses suggest they may have colluded over the answers because there is something they do not wish to make public. That only makes me more determined to get to the bottom of it.”

Both organisations have been asked to review the responses, and informed that the IW Observer will involve the Information Commission if necessary.

The newly-elected chairman of the IW Council’s Policy and Scrutiny Committee for Health and Social Care, Cllr Sarah Redrup, said last night: “This raises critical questions about transparency over the independence of the two trusts. In 2023, when plans for increased co-operation were announced, the previous chairman, Cllr Michael Lilley, and vice-chairman, Cllr John Nicholson, sought answers on the future of the trusts. At the time they were assured that the trusts would continue to operate as separate bodies, albeit sharing a chairman and chief executive.

“It is so important that Island interest and concerns are being heard and acted upon, as these can be quite different to life on the mainland. Mainland insensitivity to our experiences here would be far from the principal of integration.”

So, is this merely an extraordinary coincidence, or is this evidence of a concerning blurring of lines between the two ‘independent’ trusts? The IW Observer is awaiting further information.