The independence of Tayside’s mental health probe has been cast into doubt after it emerged its first report was delayed so NHS chiefs could suggest changes.
Papers show ex-Tayside chairman John Brown was sent an early copy of the independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside’s interim report – and then sent 18 pages of suggestions to inquiry head David Strang to “enhance the input” from the health board.
Outraged families of those who died after engaging with mental health services fear the inquiry has been compromised as a result of “cherry-picking”.
Changes ranged from phrasing to passages being removed altogether.
In his letter to Mr Strang, Mr Brown acknowledged the proposals could see “significant redrafting” of the report, which was delayed by a week to give the board time to respond.
Mr Brown wrote: “As the body that commissioned the inquiry, the board would rather delay its publication for a few more days in order to ensure it was as accurate, complete and inclusive as possible.
“I’m sure you would agree that it is important that the interim report is well received by all interested parties, including the public and the staff.”
Gillian Murray’s uncle David Ramsay took his own life after being sent away from Carseview despite asking to be admitted.
She said: “It is not acceptable that NHS Tayside were able to delay the release of this report for a week before any other stakeholders had seen it, so they could cherry-pick aspects of the report they didn’t like.
“That isn’t very independent.
“If this continues, I will go back to parliament, argue for a public inquiry and succeed.”
Mandy McLaren, whose son Dale Thomson took his own life in 2015 after discharging himself from Carseview, said: “The NHS shouldn’t have been able to touch one word on that report. That was the whole point.
“How can we trust the inquiry? I feel the whole thing has been undermined.”
Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour shadow health secretary, warned any “whiff of interference” may undermine confidence in NHS Tayside.
Ms Lennon: “The people of Tayside will decide for themselves if the changes made to the report amount to spin.
“NHS Tayside and SNP ministers owe it to the families who have lost loved ones to treat this inquiry with respect.”
The independent inquiry has staunchly denied its integrity has been affected.
A spokeswoman said: “Many of the suggested changes made in the NHS’s response document were in fact rejected.
“The chair of the inquiry retained complete discretion over the content of the report throughout this process and continues to maintain full independence from NHS Tayside.”
NHS Tayside said the practice of external reviewers sending draft reports for checking was “routine”.
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A spokeswoman said: “We look forward to the independent inquiry’s final report and recommendations, which will be a major influence on the future shape of mental health services in Tayside.”
The Scottish Government said it had been given assurances over the independence of the inquiry.