I have a copy of a letter written by Mr Hutton (then Junior Health Minister) to a Member of Parliament in March 2000 saying that Coughlan had ruled the scheme then being operated as’lawful’. This is mirrored in Scotish Junior Minister of Health, Mr McAveety’s, recent letter to an M.S.P. in which he writes ‘The effect of the Judgment was to bring those Health Authorities back to the national UK benchmark definition.’
A week or so before Mr Hutton wrote, James Goudie Q.C. (Counsel for the H.A. - he was in Court throughout) gave an ‘opinion’ to Essex saying that the circular of 1995 setting out that ‘national UK benchmark definition’ was ‘unlawful’. The Ombudsman has now ruled to that effect in five cases and ordered a trawl back to 1996 to refund those wrongly charged.
Mr Hutton and Mr McAveety in writing thousands of letters have to rely on what is prepared by Civil Servants, but nobody who has read Coughlan could honestly prepare what the Minister was asked to sign. Lord Woolf said the circular was ‘flawed’. He went on to say it went ‘far beyond’ what the law permitted.
It is interesting that in reply to questions in the Commons Ministers have never repeated this absurd claim that the1995 scheme with the ‘national benchmark’ was ruled lawful by Coughlan. To do so would deliberately mislead the Commons. With reluctance I have to say that there is overwhelming evidence that the letters prepared for the two Ministers were deliberately dishonest and intended to defraud the old, the sick and the disabled of their assets.
Throughout this whole business I have been dismayed by the high level of chicanery practised by Senior Health Service Managers, although I make an exception for Essex and N.Yorks, who at once agreed I was right. The Ombudsman’s last task, before a public statement is to resolve a complaint that a major firm of Solicitors conspired with a Member of the H.A. itself to con a Consultant into falsifying the medical evidence. The level of dishonesty in a South London Borough was so high that as soon as Solicitors for the new PCT saw the documents they paid an extra £25000 compensation without hesitation.
Whoever drafted the letters for the Ministers should be sacked.