New North london cluster trust “unprepared” for emergency situations

A NON-EXECUTIVE director of Haringey Primary Care Trust has been suspended after telling the Ham&High of confidential documents showing the organisation was unprepared to deal with an emergency such as a terrorist attack.

Jonathan Bloch was suspended on full pay after he advised the Ham&High to request a set of confidential documents from the PCT, which is now part of a cluster trust with other north London boroughs, that show “a complete lack” of preparation towards procedures in the event of an emergency situation – like that of the 7/7 bombings.

The PCT initially refused to release the documents saying they are confidential, and then again refused despite a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request being lodged by the Ham&High asking for the release of the documents.

The trust rejected the request for information based on a section of the act that protects the “health and safety of individuals”.

The documents in question refer to a meeting which detailed the emergency preparation of NHS Haringey, tabled by the borough’s emergency planning officer.

Mr Bloch says this officer revealed that he was unaware of any steps taken to ensure continuity once the NHS cluster – in which Enfield, Haringey, Barnet, Islington and Camden PCTs are joining together to form the NHS North Central London (NCL) cluster – was established.

He said: “I decided to go to the press as I did not feel that anything would happen without the use of outside prompting.

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“I was also mindful as to how unprepared the emergency services were for the July bombings.

“When the Ham&High contacted the PCT there was a lot of scurrying around.”

In response to the FOI request, Haringey PCT refused to answer the questions posed but supplied a “briefing note” which laid out some key emergency planning decisions that had been made as of April 13.

A major incident room will be set up at Stephenson House and a backup will be maintained at Holbrook House. An on-call rota for senior managers at cluster level is in place and contact details have been distributed throughout.

After this briefing note was released, a letter of suspension was sent to Mr Bloch April 21 from Ann Watts CBE, chair of the PCT which said the action had been taken because Mr Bloch had told “the local press” about “information which was provided to you confidentially in your role as a non-executive director of Haringey PCT and which was clearly not for public disclosure”.

Mr Bloch is determined to fight the suspension as a point of principle. He said: “I will fight it on the basis of the public interest to know this important information that will affect us all, and to show that they are covering up this information which is exemplified by this freedom of information act refusal.

“If everything was hunky-dory then why are they not sharing the information when the local press asks for it?

“By seeking to punish me for talking to the press it shows that the PCT management as always have put the interest of the organisation above that of Haringey’s residents.”

An investigation is now ongoing to decide whether Mr Bloch’s role will be permanently terminated. The Ham&High has referred the FOI refusal to the Information Commissioner.

Haringey PCT was unavailable for comment.

SUSPENDED: Jonathan Bloch, right, advised the Ham&High to request confidential documents about the PCT.