HOSPITAL bosses have been accused of using £4,500 in taxpayer money to 'keep vital information hidden'.

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust has revealed it has spent £4,352.50 on external legal advice relating to Freedom of Information requests from The Mail.

The paper has made a number of requests for information in the last 12 months relating to the trust's urology department which has come under fire following clinical errors made by three consultants - Kavinder Madhra, Muhammad Naseem, and Ashutosh Jain.

The trust's associate director of corporate affairs, Phil Woodford, said: The Trust, like all other public bodies, is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

“This enables members of the public to request information from public authorities; however, certain information is legally exempt.

“The trust receives hundreds of FOI requests per month. In order to comply with the law, we do occasionally seek specialist legal advice.

“We incur such fees all year round, as we do not employ a lawyer in-house to advise us on these requests.

“The fees incurred in relation to FOI requests were to advise on the laws relating to personal and sensitive patient and employee data.

“People’s personal data, is just that – personal.

“Our patients and colleagues have every right to expect us to look after their data with care and in accordance with the law.

“We have a duty to ensure we spend tax payers’ money wisely and I am confident we have only commissioned such specialist legal advice concerning FOI requests where it has been necessary.

“The potential fine incurred as a result of us of breaching the Data Protection Act, could far outweigh any money we have spent on specialist legal advice.”

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, one of four MPs who have called for the health secretary to commission a public inquiry into UHMBT's urology department, said: “This must stop - our health trust shouldn’t be diverting NHS money from patient care to fund lawyers keeping vital information hidden from the public.

“At our meeting last week, chief executive Aaron Cummins acknowledged that the organisation needed to stop being so defensive about legitimate requests for information so I hope they will take this opportunity to make clear there will be no more vital NHS cash squandered in this way.”

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, another signatory to the letter to heath secretary Matt Hancock, said: “These are worrying figures, and it underlines the importance of the government agreeing to our request that the Trust’s internal investigation must now be subject to independent inquiry.”