Health chiefs at NHS South East Coast are rushing to canvass public and patient opinions before their proposals for a review of patient services in Kent get too much negative press.

Health chiefs at NHS South East Coast are rushing to canvass public and patient opinions before their proposals for a review of patient services in Kent get too much negative press.

The strategic health authority is extending its 'Fit for the Future' programme to Kent after nearly a year of discussions in Surrey and Sussex.

There has been widespread public opposition in Surrey and Sussex - fuelled by a summer of bad publicity in local papers (news analysis, pages 16-17, 30 November).

Now a leaked document shows the SHA is trying to hold engagement meetings with members of the public and patient groups in Kent before its scheme comes under fire in the county.

'It is urgent to complete these [meetings] before the engagement process leads to heavy media coverage or any active campaigning so that it is relatively easy to recruit a representative sample of the population who have not been affected by any previous public discourse,' says the document.

A spokesperson for the SHA said: 'It's true that we do want to understand people's current views before they are affected by any media or other campaigns.'