The FOI which uncovered a manslaughter investigation at a hospital

I’m not sure whether this demonstrates the power of FOI or just how secretive public sector organisations have become.

Over the summer, the Brighton Argus submitted a Freedom of Information request which many of you will be familiar with – asking the police for details of crimes reported at local hospitals.

Other journalists who have made this request have ended up with stories about thefts in hospital wards, or maybe hospital equipment pinched.

Via FOI, Sussex Police revealed that it was currently investigating an allegation of manslaughter. Yes, that’s right. Manslaughter. And what’s more, the Argus says it’s the first time it’s ever come to light.

A trawl through Google seems to back that up. Not surprisingly, the story was picked up around the globe – although the cut and paste nature of some news sites does perhaps reduce the impact of such a statement.

The Argus reports:

77-year-old Joan Dixon of High Street, Findon, near Worthing, died after receiving what officers believe was an overdose of heart medication.

Those arrested were a 23-year-old woman from Chichester, a 40-year-old man from Emsworth in Hampshire and a 37-year-old man from Chichester.

All have been questioned by detectives and released on bail while the officers carry out further inquiries.

What’s more, the case has also been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. So three people arrested on suspicion of manslaughter (according to the police) over a death with happened last year, and the case is with the CPS. And it took an FOI to get it reported.

Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said: “The trust is acutely aware of how distressing these circumstances are for the family, and once again would wish to extend its condolences to them.”

And presumably acutely aware of the negative publicity which would come from proactively telling people about the incident when it took place last year.

As I said, I’m not sure if this post is about a real success using FOI or a worrying example of how a hospital trust and police force have managed to keep something quiet for almost a year. Alleged anslaughter on a hospital ward? Surely the public’s right to know stretched beyond FOI?



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