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The acrimonious dispute over plans for a£200m hospital in south Birmingham reached a new low last week when a community health council chair accused the key trust involved of trying to undermine its participation in formal consultation.

In a letter to Birmingham health authority chief executive Mike Waterland, South Birmingham CHC chair Ursula Pearce claims that a CHC member was 'driven around' by Claire Austin, press officer at University Hospital Birmingham trust, in an attempt to seek support for the new hospital.

The CHC voted by 14 votes to six to object to plans for a new hospital to replace Selly Oak and Queen Elizabeth hospitals, which are run by the trust.

Ms Pearce claims Ms Austin drove CHC member Matt Baker during office hours to visit other members who voted against the CHC's objection, or who could not attend the meeting in which the decision was taken.

'The purpose of the visits, it appears, was to persuade CHC members to sign a letter expressing support for the trust's plans for a new hospital, against the majority decision of the CHC,' Ms Pearce charges.

Ms Austin told HSJ that she has known Mr Baker 'for some time.' She says he suffers from emphysema. 'I did drive him around to a number of addresses in Birmingham in my own time. I don't know the people he was visiting or why.'

She said she sat in her car while Mr Baker made his visits, and denied that she had sought to influence any member of the CHC.

Birmingham HA declined to comment.

See news focus, pages 10-11.