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Independents' Day

Closing our cottage hospital simply makes no sense

The Government never intended its high-profile public consultation on the community health White Paper to be a free debate, writes John Robinson.

A briefing document inviting tenders to run the consultation, obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the Department of Health told potential suppliers it would set 'specific themes' to be covered.

The finding supports accusations by GPs and academics (Pulse, 24 September) that the consultation was a sham exercise because it focused on a restricted range of issues relating to access, but marginalised others such as continuity of care.

The documents also reveal that Opinion Leader Research was asked to write a proposal for the Your Health, Your Care, Your Say consultation before other organisations were even asked to tender.

Officials warned that 'any formal tender would need to be carefully managed to ensure they do not have an unfair advantage over competing agencies ­ due to receiving a fuller briefing and being given a longer period of time to produce a response'.

Opinion Leader Research was later chosen, despite its initial £2.2 million bid being more than double the Government's intended £1 million maximum and 10 times more than tenders from pollsters ICM and Mori.

Documents also show the department was so concerned about the consultation's high cost it considered getting burger chain McDonald's to sponsor it.

An e-mail from an official stated the cost of the proposal from Opinion Leader Research was 'huge'. It said: 'There may even be a chance of offsetting some of the costs through sponsorship, eg Lloyds Pharmacy, McDonald's etc. I only mention those because I have had preliminary discussions, although not on this subject.'

A department spokesman said the final cost of the consultation was £900,799.

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