A HEALTH board has been reprimanded for refusing to disclose its waiting times statistics for patients with chronic pain after its chief executive wrongly claimed it did not hold the data.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway also breached the legislation by "failing to give reasonable advice and assistance", according to an investigation by the Scottish Information Commissioner.

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Rosemary Agnew said there was "no doubt" NHS D&G held the information requested and had "wrongly" claimed otherwise in a letter signed by its £95,000-a-year chief executive, Jeff Ace.

The findings, published today, have spurred calls for a Scotland-wide secrecy probe to ensure that other health boards are not stifling legitimate FOI requests.

Former Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said he was "astounded" by the actions of NHS D&G, which was the only one of Scotland's 14 regional health boards to fail to provide the data requested by health campaigner and former MSP, Dorothy-Grace Elder.

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"There has clearly been a serious attempt to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of FOI Scotland legislation," said Mr Neil.

The saga began when Ms Elder, as honorary secretary of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on chronic pain, wrote to each health board on November 25 2015 requesting statistics on how long chronic pain sufferers were waiting for their first appointment.

Ms Elder submitted the FOI days after NHS statisticians blocked their release, with the support of a ministerial steering group, over fears the figures were not "robust" enough.

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While other health boards cooperated, NHS D&G initially refused on the grounds that it was "otherwise accessible", directing Ms Elder to two websites.

When Ms Elder pointed out that the data was not available on either website, the health board backtracked.

In a letter dated January 18 2016, chief executive Jeff Ace said the original decision should have advised Ms Elder that the information "is not held" by the health board and referred her to NHS statistics body, ISD Scotland.

The figures were finally disclosed to Ms Elder by ISD Scotland on February 4, but the public body confirmed that its data was based on figures submitted to it by health boards.

Ms Elder complained to the Scottish Information Commissioner about NHS D&G's refusal to issue data to her that it was supplying separately to ISD Scotland.

Separately, Ms Elder obtained the vast email trail relating to her initial FOI which revealed that 27 different people, including health board, hospital, and ISD Scotland staff, were contacted about it. Among those involved in the correspondence was an NHS D&G doctor who sat on the ministerial group originally involved in suppressing the release of the data last year.

Ms Agnew rejected the health board's contention that it would be inappropriate to disclose raw "unverified" figures, stressing that "the accuracy of the data itself is not a reason to refuse to disclose it".

She added that the health board failed in its duty to "give reasonable advice and assistance" to Ms Elder.

Ironically, the waiting times figures for NHS D&G were among the best in Scotland, with 99.3 per cent of chronic pain outpatients seen within the 18-week guarantee.

In contrast, only 14 out of 333 NHS Ayrshire & Arran patients were treated in time.

Writing in the Herald today, Ms Elder claims the real motivation in withholding the statistics was a "determination to trounce transparency to patients and uphold a prior establishment decision not to produce any Scottish figures".

Elaine Smith, a Labour MSP and member of the parliament's chronic pain group said: “This board has shown outrageous disregard for these patients. Many are constantly in agony and need to know how long they have to wait in various areas. We’re Parliamentarians and campaigners trying to help and our request was treated shockingly – this board should be ashamed.”

Miles Briggs MSP, Scottish Conservative public health spokesman said he would be seeking assurances that FOI obstruction was not "regular practice" in the NHS.

Carole Ewart, convener of the Campaign for FOI added: "This reveals a worrying culture within a health authority.”

A spokeswoman for the health board said: “NHS D&G is committed to upholding the principles of the Freedom of Information Act and being an open and transparent organisation.

"We accept and acknowledge the Scottish Information Commissioner's findings."